YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan — Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton made a surprise visit to U.S. troops and their families here Sunday before returning home from a weeklong Asia tour, her first overseas trip since taking the job.
In remarks that lasted about 10 minutes, Clinton recapped her whirlwind trip to Japan, Indonesia, South Korea and China, saying she hoped to "represent our values, ideals and interests" as she met with key leaders in each country.
"It was a productive trip," she said. "We need to find willing partners and allies to help address some of the difficult problems we face."
Clinton entered a hangar on Yokota’s flight line to a loud ovation and was introduced by Air Force Lt. Gen. Edward A. Rice Jr., the U.S. Forces Japan commander.
"Most people, after the schedule she’s kept this last week, would’ve looked at this as just another refueling stop," Rice told the crowd. "She looked at this as an opportunity to visit the airmen, soldiers, sailors and Marines who are defending our freedom in a place far from home.
"That speaks volumes about the jobs you do every day … [and] the kind of secretary of state she plans to be."
The former first lady and U.S. senator from New York said she was "delighted and honored" at the chance to greet some servicemembers, Department of Defense civilians and family members.
The military audience consisted of select airmen and USFJ personnel from Yokota, as well as Marines brought up from Camp Fuji, a group that also included some based on Okinawa but on the mainland for training.
"When I found out we were stopping here, I was thrilled I might get a chance to express my gratitude — but also the gratitude of our country for the jobs you do," Clinton said. "Thank you for what you’re willing to do in sacrifice and service."
She called Japan-based troops the "first lines of defense" in the Asia-Pacific region and said America can only be strengthened by cooperation between the state and defense departments.
"We’re only as strong as our united efforts," she said.
Last Tuesday, Clinton signed an agreement in Tokyo that reinforced a plan to move 8,000 Marines and their families from Okinawa to Guam.
In meetings during the Asia tour, she also discussed concerns over North Korea’s nuclear ambition and security issues in Afghanistan, Pakistan and the Middle East. She visited a women’s university in South Korea on Friday, and talked about the global economic crisis with Chinese leaders over the weekend.
At Yokota, Clinton said it’s crucial to get North Korea back in six-party talks built around swaying Pyongyang to dismantle its nuclear programs. She also said China and U.S. fortunes are tied around America’s economic revival.
"We had a series of productive meetings in China designed for us to have a more constructive relationship," she added.
"All in all, our message in this 20,000-mile trip was that the U.S. is ready and eager to lead. We know we can’t solve all of the world’s problems alone, but the world also knows they can’t solve these problems without us."
Cameras flashed inside the hangar as troops and families packed around a red carpet for glimpses of Clinton. She shook hands and posed for photos, staying for almost an hour before heading back to her plane.
"It was nice that she stayed as long as she did to meet and talk with everybody and take pictures," said Jill Carico, a spouse whose husband is deployed. "I was surprised she stayed so long."
Airman 1st Class Kyle Storako, of Yokota’s 374th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, said meeting the secretary was an "exhilarating" experience and he’s glad she took time to address the troops.
"I especially liked the part about North Korea and trying to work more with them," he said.
Senior Airman Andrew Jones, a U.S. Air Force Band of the Pacific-Asia member, said he’s a big supporter of Clinton.
"It was a great opportunity for airmen and dependents to realize that they’re not forgotten overseas," he said.
"What really stood out to me was what she had to say about foreign policy, especially about the meeting she had in China. I’d be really interested to know about the progress that was discussed in that meeting."
Two female Marines assigned to the 12th Marine Regiment at Camp Hansen, Okinawa, were part of the large group that traveled from Camp Fuji for the event.
"It was nice to see a strong female up there talking," said Pfc. Amaranta Khosravisanchez, 19. "I hope people take it to heart and do something."
Pfc. Maria Sinchiquizhphi, 21, said they volunteered to attend Sunday after hearing about the appearance. A while back, she heard Clinton speak in New York.
"She’s one of my idols and her speeches are always motivating," Sinchiquizhphi said. "It gets to me and it stays there, too.
"She used some strong words to motivate me every day as a female Marine. As you can see, there aren’t many of us."
Stars and Stripes reporter Bryce S. Dubee contributed to this report.