President Bush is spending the long Christmas weekend in seclusion with his family at Camp David - the presidential mountain retreat. VOA's Paula Wolfson reports on Christmas Eve, he paid tribute to the men and women of the U.S. military.

The president rose early for a Christmas ritual - a series of calls to members of the armed services. He spoke with ten servicemen and women in all, including two from each branch of the military. Most are deployed in either Afghanistan or Iraq.

Spokeswoman Dana Perino quotes the president as saying he wanted to let them how much he appreciates their service, and how proud he is of each of them.

The sentiments echo those in the president's annual Christmas message to the armed forces. "Each of you is a volunteer who is answering a great call at an historic moment. You choose to serve a cause greater than yourself, and your courage and character are an inspiration for all who love freedom. By confronting the terrorists and bringing liberty to the oppressed you are making the American people safer and laying the foundations of peace for generations to come," he said.

In the taped message, Mr. Bush also thanked the families left behind, and said he joins them in praying for the safe return of the their loved ones in harm's way. "For generations the men and women of America's armed forces have served around the world fighting for freedom and keeping our nation safe. You continue that tradition today and your work makes America proud," he said.

On Saturday, the president met at Camp David with Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who recently returned from his first visit to Iraq. Mr. Bush will continue consultations on his Iraq policy after Christmas during a week-long stay at his Texas ranch. He is expected to announce a revised strategy for dealing with the situation in Iraq early in 2007.