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ARNOLD, Mo. — In a choreographed effort to leave nothing in the 100th day media coverage to chance, President Barack Obama left Washington on Wednesday morning and flew to this middle-class suburb of St. Louis for a town hall event that gave Americans a chance to question his brief record.

"It is great to be back in the middle of America, where common sense reigns," he said.

Obama’s themes were workers and the military, reflecting a focus the two major challenges for his government: the economy and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"We can’t rest until America is secure," he said. "That’s why I’ve begun to end the war in Iraq, through a responsible transition to Iraqi control. That’s why we have a new strategy to disrupt and dismantle and defeat al-Qaida in Afghanistan and Pakistan. That’s why we renewed our diplomacy to reduce the spread of nuclear weapons, speak directly to our adversaries, and strengthen relations."

Then Obama called the American people to action.

"We are living through extraordinary times. We didn’t ask for all the challenges that we face, but we’re determined to answer the call to meet them. That’s the spirit I hear everywhere I go," he said.

"We need soldiers and diplomats, scientists, teachers, workers, and entrepreneurs. We need your service. We need your active citizenship."

Obama voters are now constituents, and in Missouri the unemployment rate jumped from 5.6 percent this time last year to 8.7 percent this year.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates has proposed cutting back spending on the C-17 cargo aircraft, whose parts are built in St. Louis, and the F/A-18 Super Hornet, built by Boeing, whose defense division is headquartered in the town as well.

Here, the audience brought questions on manufacturing job losses, retirement savings, education, health care, foreign policy, and the environment.

Asked how the president will handle so many global problems at once, Obama first defended his Iraq and Afghanistan policies calling for more nonmilitary approaches.

"Whatever arguments we’ve had about Iraq, I think we’ve been able to build a consensus that it is time for us to bring our troops home" in a careful way, he said.

Obama called recent "flare-ups" in Iraq "highly sensationalized."

"In Afghanistan and in neighboring Pakistan, we do have real problems with al-Qaida and the Taliban. They are the single most direct threat to our national security interests," he added.

The president said he heard complaints from Democrats over his decision to send more troops.

"But as commander in chief, it is my responsibility to make sure that [Osama] bin Laden and his cronies are not able to create a safe haven, [from] within which they can kill 3,000 Americans, or more."

"Having said that, both Iraq and Afghanistan, I think we’re doing the right thing. I think it’s difficult. It’s going to require a new strategy that this is not just a military action, but also includes diplomacy and development. We can’t neglect the other parts of the world."

Obama then gave the audience a primer on American foreign aid, which at just 1 percent of the federal budget, he said, is a strategic down-payment toward winning friends.

The event’s invocation came from the Rev. Mark Harvey, whose was born in Tokyo General Army Hospital while his father was in the Army Medical Corps during the Korean War.

Mike Thompson, a Vietnam combat veteran of the 9th Infantry Division, led the pledge of allegiance.

And a military stepmomther introduced Obama. Linda Pleimann happened to be a Republican-turned-Democrat who campaigned for Obama. Her husband, Jeff, is a Vietnam vet and his son, Army Sgt. Carl Pleimann, 27, finished a 15-month Iraq tour in January. He is stationed in Schweinfurt, Germany.

Jeff Pleimann told Stars and Stripes that he spoke with his son on the phone just before his stepmother took the stage and said Carl was excited for her.

As a military dad, Jeff Pleimann said that he likes the way Obama’s administration is going, and that the time had come to decide whether to pull out or press forward with the wars downrange.

"I think we ought to have a clearer mission," he said, adding that he felt the previous administration floundered after the Iraq war began. "We didn’t know what do to when we got there."

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