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WASHINGTON — President Bush welcomed children of military families Monday as part of an annual Christmas event at the White House.

About 120 elementary schoolchildren attended, including 60 children with parents stationed at local Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine bases, a White House official said.

Of those children, about 54 have parents who are or have been deployed overseas and four have a parent who was wounded, some of whom are recovering at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, said Susan Whitson, a spokeswoman for first lady Laura Bush.

The president thanked the children with parents in the military on behalf of a grateful nation.

“I know it’s hard when they’re away; this has got to be a difficult time for you,” Bush said. “But we really want you to know that they’re doing important work. They’re not only protecting the country, but they’re helping other boys and girls live in freedom like we do here in the United States, and that’s important.”

Afterward, the president and the first lady sat with children as professional ballet dancers performed scenes from “The Nutcracker.”

Ballerina Julie Kent, who played the Sugar Plum Fairy, said she hopes the children at the White House had a “magical 20 minutes.”

“I think that ballet, and especially ‘The Nutcracker,’ has the ability to bring beauty and joy in your life for a brief period, and it allows you to hope, and it allows you to dream, and especially ‘The Nutcracker’ ushers the Christmas spirit in all our hearts,” Kent said after Monday’s performance.

Kent said her father, who passed away in June, spent 30 years in the military, retiring as a Navy captain.

She said the children from military families should know that she and others admire their parents’ bravery.

“They’re all heroes,” she said. “Every single one of them.”

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