TAMPA -- President Barack Obama reaffirmed his commitment to conducting air strikes but not putting American boots on the ground against the Islamic terrorist group known as ISIS, during his speech Wednesday at MacDill Air Force Base.
Obama stood before a packed room of military personnel and media moments after he met with top military leaders. Whatever was said in that meeting, it didn't change Obama's plan originally outlined last week.
"This will not be America's fight alone. America can make a decisive difference ... but our forces will not have a combat mission," Obama told military personnel at MacDill. "As your commander-in-chief, I will not commit you to another ground war in Iraq."
Obama said though the United States would be engaging in air strikes against the terrorist group, American troops would not be fighting on the ground. Instead, Iraqi troops and Syrian rebels would be trained to engage ISIS.
Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel and Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told a Senate committee Tuesday about a multitude of possible problems with Obama's announced plan, including that Iraqi forces may not be
effective enough to fight the terrorist group and that U.S. advisers may end up joining in attacks against ISIS anyway. They indicated the nation should brace itself for a long war with no certain duration or outcome.
Much of Obama's comments at MacDill were aimed at the Central Command troops in the room. Obama praised the troops for their service, and sacrifice during 13 years of war since 9/11.
"I want to come down and shake some hands," Obama said, and he did just that at the end of his speech.
"I want to thank you for your service and sacrifice. As your commander in chief, I couldn't be prouder of you," Obama said.
Reception to Obama from the troops, who stood packed in the center of a field house for more than an hour waiting for his arrival, was warm and spirited.
"Because of you, the 9/11 generation of heroes has done everything asked of you," Obama said.
Perhaps in response to criticism about Obama's cautious approach to confronting ISIS, the president said the one constant in a world of change is America's leadership.
American response to the ISIS threat has resulted in more than 160 air strikes, the rescue of thousands of refugees, and broken ISIS sieges, Obama said.
Obama repeated his pledge to degrade and destroy ISIS.
"Our reach is long," he said. "We will find you eventually. But this is not, and will not be America's fight alone. The American forces deployed to Iraq do not and will not have a combat mission."
Moreover, Obama said, the United States cannot do for the Iraqis what they must do for themselves.
The hardest decision he has to make, Obama said, is to send Americans into harm's way.
But there are some things only America can do, including organizing the world's response to a terrorist threat, or an epidemic such as Ebola, Obama said.
Obama closed his remarks by again praising troops for their service.
Asked her reaction to Obama's remarks, Air Force Maj. Carina R. Harrison said she was impressed with the speech and supports the president fully.
"I joined the military to keep us free, and he is focused on accomplishing my objective," Harrison said. "The men and women of the armed forces reaction to the president's comments is that they fully support his plan to keep America safe."