FAIRBANKS - Gov. Sarah Palin, Republican nominee for vice president, described the Iraq war as a "righteous cause" and created a media sensation at Forth Wainwright as she spoke at the combat deployment ceremony for her son's Army unit.
"We're gonna miss you. We can't help it, we're gonna miss you," Palin told the troops Thursday.
Palin's 19-year-old son, Track, was among the more than 4,000 soldiers in the 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team listening to her remarks. She's mentioned him often on the campaign trail and got big applause in her speech last week at the Republican National Convention when she said: "one week from tomorrow - September 11th - he'll deploy to Iraq with the Army infantry in the service of his country."
Thursday's deployment ceremony was held on the seventh anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks on New York City and Washington, D.C., but Private First Class Track Palin and his unit won't actually ship overseas until later this month, according to military officials. Once the group gets to the country, they will be in northern Iraq, likely the province of Diyala, and Track Palin will help provide security for the brigade's commander and deputy commander. The unit will be in Iraq for a year.
Major Chris Hyde, brigade spokesman, said the unit is not changing Track Palin's assignment or taking any other special steps now that he's the son of a vice presidential candidate.
Track Palin wants to "pave his own way in life," Hyde said, and not to be known as the son of the governor and vice presidential candidate.
"He's a very low key person. He doesn't walk into a room and you say 'that's the governor's son,' '' Hyde said.
Beau Biden, the son of Democratic vice presidential nominee Joe Biden, will also be heading to Iraq in a few weeks. He is a captain in the Delaware National Guard and will work as a military lawyer in the country.
Track Palin was anonymous at Thursday's ceremony among the formation of 4,000-plus soldiers in fatigues, black berets, and desert tan combat boots. The military did not allow reporters to interview him, his mohter, nor to ask campaign-related questions of anyone. Campaigning on a military base is not allowed.
Palin never mentioned her son by name at the ceremony. She spoke in her capacity as governor, as she has at similar events. Fort Wainwright officials said they invited her to speak months ago, before Republican presidential candidate John McCain selected her to be his running mate.
But everything is different now. Palin's remarks attracted intense international interest.
The military hesitated to allow reporters to attend the event, then relented but with unusually tight controls including assigning each member of the media with their own soldier escort.
Normally, it's just the Fairbanks press who cover the Fort Wainwright ceremonies. But 55 media members registered for this one, including representatives of all of the major television networks, Entertainment Tonight, Japanese television, The New York Times, the Washington Post, the Irish Times and Gentleman's Quarterly.
The media were kept off to the side, while the brigade family members sat in bleachers, some wrapped in blankets among the chill and fall colors of Interior Alaska's rolling hills. They applauded their Iraq-bound soldiers as generals talked about sacrifices and accomplishments of Fort Wainwright's "Arctic Wolves."
Sarah Palin connected the Iraq deployment to the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, speaking of other Fort Wainwright soldiers "lost in the broad conflict that began seven years ago today."
"You'll be there to defend the innocent from the enemies who planned and carried out and rejoiced in the deaths of thousands of Americans," Palin said to the departing soldiers.
Palin left Fairbanks after the ceremony in her vice presidential campaign jet. She flew to Anchorage and is expected to be in Southcentral Alaska until Saturday, when she returns to the campaign trail in the Lower 48. There's talk of an Alaska farewell rally for her on Saturday morning, but nothing has been confirmed.