JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON — Melania Trump might have been a fashion model at one time in her life, but she had no qualms ripping off a chunk of messy play dough and getting her hands dirty, just like the three preschoolers seated at the table with her Friday at a military base in Alaska.
Trump expertly rubbed the material between her two hands into a perfect sphere and then rolled the red small ball on the table to the girl seated across from her.
The nation’s first lady then moved to the table to her right and made a harmonica out of ordinary household materials, held together with a rubber band.
It’s not the heady stuff of the official visit with her husband to Asia but hundreds packed the Arctic Oasis Community Center to get a glimpse of the first lady as she toured programs for children and youth at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson. She made a refueling stop at the Anchorage base en route back to Washington, D.C., after spending the last week with President Donald Trump in South Korea and China.
The White House said late Friday that the first lady “has her own schedule to keep and needed to get back.”
The president continued his official visit to Asia.
Melania Trump, wearing a three-quarter length winter coat over a brown turtle neck and white slacks, spent about 35 minutes visiting with children and teachers.
“Any time we have an opportunity to share with others what our program does and the educational basis for all the activities that we do, it’s a chance to show our story and to share with other individuals how we serve our military population,” said Tamra De Benedetto, who oversees all activities at the base for children under age 18.
Trump viewed items children made on a 3D printer, saw sewing projects, and watched as they constructed fish out of compact discs, glitter and gems.
“Every program we offer has an educational purpose and a reason for why we do it,” De Benedetto said.
De Benedetto said she exchanged a few private words with Trump. “She is just delightful and very genuine,” she said.
Trump didn’t make a public speech or address reporters, but did take time to shake hands and talk briefly with parents and military members who flocked to the community center.
Paige Wyse and her husband, Air Force Tech Sgt. Matthew Wyse, brought their 4-year-old son Brantley so he could make a fish with the first lady. They found out about Trump’s visit Thursday and tried to explain to their son who she was.
He made the correlation when she explained to him that the visitor is the president’s wife, and then he became excited.
“He was like, ‘Oh, wow. OK,'” she said.
Air Force Master Sgt. David Jennings brought his wife, Lindsay, and their two daughters, Abbigail and Annabelle, to see the first lady. He said dignitaries stop at the base all the time, but base personnel rarely are able to get close.
But in this case, the family got a good view of the visit, and they took pictures to remember the rare event.
“A great family memory here,” he said.
There are 14,000 active duty soldiers and airmen stationed at the joint Army and Air Force facility in Anchorage. With their family members, that number swells to 29,000.
There are currently 1,800 service members deployed all over the globe, including 1,200 in Afghanistan.