Schwarzenegger visits Ramstein
Stars and Stripes May 5, 2004
RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, Germany — California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger told a little secret to airmen at the Air Force’s largest overseas airlift base on Monday.
“Do you know how they translate ‘Ramstein’ in the English language?” Schwarzenegger asked a crowd packed into a base hangar. “It means ‘We’re gonna kick some ass!’”
The remark drew whoops and hollers from airmen and their families who stayed on base long after work to see the actor and one-time bodybuilder.
Before coming to Ramstein, Schwarzenegger visited soldiers wounded in Iraq at nearby Landstuhl Regional Medical Center. He also spent a few minutes with Thomas Hamill, the American contractor who escaped from his Iraqi captors and was picked up by American troops.
Schwarzenegger, who arrived at Ramstein on his private jet after a trip to Israel, regaled the crowd with tales of his upbringing — including his mother’s dismay that, while his friends had pinups of hot girls on their bedroom walls, Schwarzenegger had “pictures of half-naked men.”
“She was very worried,” Schwarzenegger said of his mother. “Then she realized that bodybuilding is a serious sport.”
In fact, Schwarzenegger said, he came to the United States for the first time from his native Austria as a bodybuilding competitor, and Americans’ generosity during those years is something he figures he’s paying back in his public life as California’s governor.
But, he admits, he still dabbles in the sport.
“People ask me if I still lift weights,” the seven-time former Mr. Olympia said. “I tell them I do — the other day I lifted 275 pounds. I lifted Ted Kennedy out of his chair!”
Schwarzenegger turned on his movie-star appeal for the crowd — some loyal Republicans, others die-hard “Terminator” fans and others a mix of both.
“In my movies, I often play the hero,” Schwarzenegger said to the Ramstein crowd. “I play the Terminator. I play the commando.
“But you are the real heroes,” he said to whistles and hoots. “You are the real Terminators. You are the real commandos.”
Hortencia Noguera, here from Brazil visiting her aunt, was nearly speechless at the thought of seeing Schwarzenegger. She had pushed herself up to the head of a rock-show style crowd to the stage.
“He’s my hero.” the wispy 19-year-old said. “I hope he makes ‘Terminator 4.’”
Airman Derrick Philhower of the 435th Logistics Readiness Squadron said he just wanted to catch a glimpse of the ex-actor.
“I wanted to brag to my friends that I met him — maybe not physically, but metaphysically,” Philhower said.
About 60 airmen from California sat behind Schwarzenegger on the stage, underneath a giant American flag. Among them was Staff Sgt. Mike “Superman” (or so said his name tag) Byrnes, of Los Angeles.
Byrnes, a beefcake in his own right, even brought his copy of Schwarzenegger’s “Encyclopedia of Modern Bodybuilding,” to the event.
“And I brought an extra, extra-large T-shirt to give him,” said Byrnes, a 791st Air Evacuation Squadron member.
Schwarzenegger didn’t fail to please.
After his speech, he worked his way through the throngs, shaking hands and smiling at babies perched on their dads’ shoulders. Byrnes got to hug him.
After a long stretch to grasp hands with the governor, one airman said, “Now I can’t wash this hand for awhile.”
After the show, a breathless Noguera said she somehow had managed to grab Schwarzenegger’s hand for a stout shake.
“It was all I ever imagined,” she said.