Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger doesn't relinquish his celluloid-hero status easily. But on Saturday in Orange County, he gladly handed it over -- to roars of approval.
"You are the bravest. You are the strongest," he told more than 2,000 uniformed personnel and their families at a military appreciation day. "There's a big difference between the movies and reality. In the movies, I'm the action hero. [But] you are all the true action heroes."
Schwarzenegger, speaking on an outdoor stage lined with flags at the Joint Forces Training Base in Los Alamitos, made a surprise visit to the Hollywood-themed tribute attended mostly by Army, Navy, Marine and Air Force reserves. Many had recently returned from tours in Iraq and others said they expect to be sent there.
"I love going to visit the troops," Schwarzenegger told the crowd.
But he confessed to feeling conflicted whenever they insist on taking him to the local gym. "I am now over 30. So I can't bench-press 500 pounds," he said as laughter washed over the well-muscled audience.
Afterward, the governor waded into the throng and shook hands with many of the armed forces members.
The event also featured appearances by USC quarterback Matt Leinart, the 2004 Heisman Trophy winner, 2005 Miss America Deidre Downs, 2004 Miss California Veena Goel and some cast members of the military comedy "Stripes."
Reserve members, who came from all over California, said they were grateful for the salute, which included a song-and-dance revue in the base auditorium and a catered picnic on the lawn. A military brass band added to the festive atmosphere on the 1,500-acre base by playing martial tunes while the troops mingled.
"The thing I've noticed, and the thing that means the most to me, is when total strangers come up to me and thank me for my service," said Army National Guard Capt. David Como, 42, of San Diego. "It's very moving for me."
The turnout of celebrities and an array of military officials "makes us realize that they are thinking of us somehow," said Army Reserve Sgt. Virginia Sutton, 48, of Lake Elsinore.
Military wife Gitte Lamunyon of Aliso Viejo said that families benefited from the morale boost too: "I think the patriotism is really strong. There is a lot of positivity toward our armed forces. There's a lot of positivity in the air."
The event was co-sponsored by a support group, the Assn. of the U.S. Army, and Sony Pictures Home Entertainment.
The troops heard a string of pep rally-style speeches from military leaders. Sgt. Maj. Tom Gills, the second-ranking noncommissioned officer in the Army, told them: "Whether the naysayers like it or not, democracy and freedom are flourishing in places they never have before."
The base commander, Army Col. Greg Peck, said the training facility has played an important role in preparing troops for duty in Iraq, Afghanistan and other dangerous assignments.
"Every unit on this base has been somewhere to fight the global war on terrorism," he said during a break in the festivities. "I personally don't think we say 'thank you' enough."