RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, Germany — First Lady Michelle Obama surprised a group of U.S. servicemen and women based in Germany on Thursday, jumping in to serve them steaks at a special Veterans Day meal.
"Oh, my God! Where's my camera," gasped Lavondee Stallings, a preschool teacher whose husband serves in the military, as Obama entered the banquet room at Ramstein Air Base's Officers Club.
Stallings was one of some 200 people with whom the first lady spent time during a refueling stopover on the way home from her tour of Asia with President Barack Obama.
"I am missing Sasha and Malia desperately," Obama said of her daughters, as she spoke to the group gathered for the donated steak dinner, grilled by volunteers from the California-based Cooks of the Valley.
"But it is a thrill to be here with you guys, because we are so grateful to all of you," she said. "Not just our servicemen and women, but their kids, wives, husbands and parents."
Mashed potatoes with gravy, peas, corn on the cob, garlic bread and lemon meringue pie rounded out the menu.
After serving, Obama went through the room doling out hugs, handshakes and warm thanks to troops and their families.
She also chatted with their children, asking how they were doing in school and if they worked hard.
Ten-year-old Malaysia Chevere got a special shout-out when she told the first lady about her grades.
"She's a straight-A student!" Obama told the room, as the fifth-grader and her mother beamed.
"It made me feel real proud," said Malaysia's mother, Sgt. Calvernette Chevere of Williamsburg, Virginia. "She (the first lady) made everyone here feel real special."
Before the stop at Ramstein, Obama met with wounded troops recovering at the nearby Landstuhl Regional Medical Center — the largest U.S. military hospital outside the United States.
There, Obama sought to cheer soldiers recovering from injuries sustained in Iraq and Afghanistan. Pvt. Eric Griego, 22, received a hug and a special presidential medallion, known as a commander's coin, from the first lady.
Griego's mother, Brenda, said her son "perked up" after the private meeting and that it made him feel important, Landstuhl spokesman Charles Roberts said.
Besides meeting with the American troops, Obama met with her German counterpart, Bettina Wulff, before continuing her journey back to Washington.
Elsewhere in Germany, U.S. troops based at the Grafenwoehr training range were participating in a Veterans Day competition being carried live on ESPN television.
Events included a weapons assembly shuttle run, tug of war and 10-ton truck tire flip.