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Deployed Airman receives call from president

Staff Sgt. Melina Russell talks with President George Bush Christmas Eve as her husband, Staff Sgt. Frank Russell looks on.  Both are deployed here from the 96th Security Forces Squadron at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla.  (Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Randy L. Mitchell)

Staff Sgt. Melina Russell talks with President George Bush Christmas Eve as her husband, Staff Sgt. Frank Russell looks on. Both are deployed here from the 96th Security Forces Squadron at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. (Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Randy L. Mitchell)

BAGHDAD INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT, Iraq (AFMCNS) -- An Airman here received a surprise when the commander-in-chief called her on Christmas Eve.

Staff Sgt. Melina Russell, a security forces fire team leader, received that call at 4 p.m., when the White House switch board put President George W. Bush through to her.

She had learned Dec. 21 the president would be calling Christmas Eve to thank her for her service in Iraq.

"I thought it was a joke at first," Sergeant Russell said. "I didn't know my name had been submitted by my home unit."

As the day arrived and she was about to speak to President Bush, Sergeant Russell fought past the nervousness as she picked up the phone.

"I was really nervous at first, but after hearing his voice I relaxed," Sergeant Russell said. "It was like talking to an old friend I hadn't heard from in a while."

The call lasted only about two minutes, but Sergeant Russell said it was a memory she would always cherish, especially since she was able to share it with her husband, Frank, also deployed here from the 96th Security Forces Squadron at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla.

"I will never forget him asking about my daughter, Natalie, who is staying with my mother in El Paso, Texas, and sending my husband Staff Sgt. Frank Russell a hug," she said.