KAILUA, HAWAII — President-elect Barack Obama visited military families Thursday as they ate Christmas dinner, thanking them for their service and posing for pictures.
Obama visited Marine Corps Base Hawaii near his rented vacation home and briefly chatted with enlisted members who ate turkey, ham and roast beef. He didn't make formal remarks or speak to reporters during the stop, one of the few public sightings of the Democratic president-elect on what aides call a private family vacation.
"Hey," Obama said as he walked into the mess hall wearing a short-sleeved shirt and slacks. "Just wanted to say hi."
He lingered a few minutes at each table as the Marines and sailors and their families stood to greet their next commander in chief.
"What part of Indiana?" he asked one person.
To another, "This is the East Coast table, huh?"
Obama and his family planned to spend their Christmas holiday mostly out of sight, an accomplishment given the high-profile nature of his two-year marathon to win the presidency.
Obama, wife Michelle and their two young daughters opened presents earlier Thursday and planned their own dinner of turkey and ham, aides said.
The family is spending 12 days at an oceanfront compound in Kailua, a 30-minute drive from his childhood home of Honolulu.
Their Christmas did not include attending church. "The president-elect didn't want to disrupt a church community on Christmas with the burdens that come with a presidential visit," Obama spokesman Ben LaBolt said Thursday.
The Obamas arrived in Honolulu on Saturday with four aides, his Secret Service detail and a small group of journalists. Since then, he has been largely sequestered at the compound.
With less a month before Obama takes office Jan. 20, he is trying to make sure this holiday is as private as possible -- as his visit to a driving range Sunday illustrated. .
"OK, guys," Obama said, recognizing the photographers snapping pictures. "Come on. . . . How many shots do you need?"
That was one of only a handful of trips Obama and his motorcade have taken. He and his wife have visited Marine Corps Base Hawaii for daily morning workouts. Twice, he and friends have played a round of golf. He attended a private memorial service for his grandmother Tuesday and scattered her ashes in the Pacific Ocean.
And that's been it for sightings.
He has no public schedule while vacationing, although he remains involved in transition plans and has received intelligence briefings.
Obama's aides haven't been entirely successful in keeping the vacation low-profile. Photographers captured images of Obama scattering his grandmother's ashes from a rock ledge Tuesday. Another photographer took pictures of the future first family, including a shirtless Obama, in the backyard.
The Secret Service has blocked the street where he is staying, citing security concerns.
A few cars a day have rolled into the dead-end street, but they have not gotten past the checkpoint.
And a few neighbors who tried to walk past the house on Christmas Day were rebuffed by agents.
One man gave an aide a Christmas card addressed to the Obama family.
It featured a palm tree with the word "peace" written on it.