Sep 28, 3:10 AM EDT

President Barack Obama will speak to service members serving at Fort Lee in Virginia



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President Barack Obama will speak to service members serving at Fort Lee in Virginia

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WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Barack Obama's visit with U.S. troops is being billed as a chance to thank them for their service, but it will also provide him with an opportunity to reach out to an important voting bloc prior to an election in which Virginia could play a determining factor.

Obama will travel Wednesday to Fort Lee, which serves as a training base for military supply and logistics operations. The base is described as the home of Army sustainment. He will tape a town hall session with the troops that will be shown later on CNN.

The White House said Obama doesn't intend to do any politicking.

"I don't think the president should avoid traveling to a military base just because it's an election year," said White House spokesman Josh Earnest.

"If anything, in the midst of an election year, we should have all that much more appreciation for the service and sacrifice that's made by our men and women in uniform and their families," he said.

Obama occasionally makes such thank-you visits, mostly recently stopping during his July trip to Spain at Naval Station Rota to meet with troops. Similar stops have taken place over the years at bases in Texas, California and New Jersey, among others. The visits allow Obama to speak with some of the soldiers who have served in harm's way during his presidency, most notably in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Obama came into office with the U.S. in the midst of wars in both of those countries. In Iraq, he steadily lowered troop levels and declared on Aug. 31, 2010, that their combat mission was ending, though about 4,650 troops remain in an advise-and-assist role. In Afghanistan, Obama increased troop levels, which peaked at about 100,000 in 2010 before a steady drawdown. About 8,400 troops are expected to remain in Afghanistan through the end of his administration. They have two missions: training and advising Afghan forces, and supporting counter-terrorist operations.

Meanwhile, the U.S. leads a coalition of 60-plus nations working to defeat the Islamic State group, which has footholds in Syria, Iraq and Libya.

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