PHOTOS: Obama touches down in Colorado for last Air Force commencement address

After stepping off Air Force One, President Barack Obama is greeted by Lt. General Daniel R Hokanson, Deputy Commander of U.S. Northern Command, and Vice Commander, U.S. Element, North American Aerospace Defense Command at Peterson Air Force Base, in Colorado Springs on June 1, 2016. (Pat Duncan/The Colorado Statesman)

After stepping off Air Force One, President Barack Obama is greeted by Lt. General Daniel R Hokanson, Deputy Commander of U.S. Northern Command, and Vice Commander, U.S. Element, North American Aerospace Defense Command at Peterson Air Force Base, in Colorado Springs on June 1, 2016. (Pat Duncan/The Colorado Statesman)

President Barack Obama touched down in Colorado to give his final commencement speech to U.S. Air Force Academy graduates as commander in chief. The graduates are coming of age at a time of fresh global threats that seem to be pulling the United States back into conflicts with uncertain ends.

When he came into office in 2009, Obama pledged to end two wars and to keep America’s fighting forces out of unnecessary entanglements. In one of his first addresses to graduates, just months on the job, he told the U.S. Naval Academy that he promised to deploy the country’s diplomatic, economic and moral influence so that the military alone wouldn’t bear the burden of keeping Americans safe.

“It’s a promise that as long as I am your commander in chief, I will only send you into harm’s way when it is absolutely necessary, and with the strategy and the well-defined goals, the equipment and the support that you need to get the job done,” Obama said in Annapolis, Maryland.

His speech Thursday in Colorado Springs comes amid difficult questions about whether the fights the United States is now waging meet those criteria, nebulous as they may be.

As Obama eyes the end of his term, he’s weighing whether to once again increase the number of troops he’ll leave in Afghanistan when he leaves office. In Iraq, U.S. troop levels have gradually crept back up to help fight the Islamic State group, with special forces also dispatched to Syria and Libya. Deep concerns about Russia and China have spurred calls for the United States and its allies to take a more aggressive military posture in eastern Europe and Asia.

President Barack Obama greets guests on the tarmac upon his arrival on Air Force One at Peterson Air Base, in Colorado Springs Wednesday, June 1, 2016. Obama traveled to Colorado to deliver the commencement address at tomorrow's Air Force Academy graduation ceremony. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

President Barack Obama greets guests on the tarmac upon his arrival on Air Force One at Peterson Air Base, in Colorado Springs Wednesday, June 1, 2016. Obama traveled to Colorado to deliver the commencement address at tomorrow’s Air Force Academy graduation ceremony. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

White House officials said Obama wouldn’t use his speech to make major policy pronouncements, but would instead adopt an optimistic tone about how young military members should approach the future.

“It will be an opportunity for him to talk to those graduates about the security challenges that are facing the United States and the important role that the next generation of American servicemen and women will face as they protect the country,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said.

Though Obama ended the formal U.S. combat mission in Afghanistan, some 9,800 troops remain there helping Afghans battle a resurgent Taliban, a reminder of how unstable the country remains fifteen years after the U.S. went to war there. White House officials have said Obama is inclined to listen to his commanders, and many military leaders are pushing to leave more than the 5,500 troops Obama earlier said would remain.

President Barack Obama waives to greeters gathered on the tarmac at Peterson Airforce Base in Colorado Springs after arriving Wednesday night, June 1, 2016, to deliver his last commencement address as commander in chief to Air Force Academy graduates June 2. (Pat Duncan/The Colorado Statesman)

President Barack Obama waives to greeters gathered on the tarmac at Peterson Airforce Base in Colorado Springs after arriving Wednesday night, June 1, 2016, to deliver his last commencement address as commander in chief to Air Force Academy graduates June 2. (Pat Duncan/The Colorado Statesman)

Adding to the uncertainty is the presidential election. Likely Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton has adopted a slightly more hawkish tone than Obama. On the Republican side, Donald Trump has pledged to grow the U.S. military and intensify the military fight against IS, but has also unnerved foreign capitals with talk of the possible spread of nuclear weapons to Japan and South Korea.

For Obama, the speech is the culmination of a yearly tradition of addressing one of the military’s four service academies at graduation. This year, Obama also delivered commencement addresses at Howard University, a historically black school in Washington, and Rutgers University, a public university in New Jersey.

President Barack Obama arrives aboard Air Force One at Peterson Air Force Base, in Colorado Springs, Colo., Wednesday, June 1, 2016. Obama arrived in Colorado ahead of his Thursday, June 2 commencement speech at the Air Force Academy graduation. (AP Photo/Brennan Linsley)

President Barack Obama arrives aboard Air Force One at Peterson Air Force Base, in Colorado Springs, Wednesday, June 1, 2016. Obama arrived in Colorado ahead of his Thursday, June 2 commencement speech at the Air Force Academy graduation. (AP Photo/Brennan Linsley)

President Barack Obama arrives on Air Force One at Peterson Air Force Base, in Colorado Springs, Colo., Wednesday, June 1, 2016. Obama arrived in Colorado ahead of his Thursday, June 2 commencement speech at the Air Force Academy graduation. (AP Photo/Brennan Linsley)

President Barack Obama arrives on Air Force One at Peterson Air Force Base, in Colorado Springs, Wednesday, June 1, 2016. Obama arrived in Colorado ahead of his Thursday, June 2 commencement speech at the Air Force Academy graduation. (AP Photo/Brennan Linsley)

President Barack Obama descends from Air Force One upon arrival at Peterson Air Force Base, in Colorado Springs, Colo., Wednesday, June 1, 2016. Obama arrived in Colorado ahead of his Thursday, June 2 commencement speech at the Air Force Academy graduation. (AP Photo/Brennan Linsley)

President Barack Obama descends from Air Force One upon arrival at Peterson Air Force Base, in Colorado Springs, Wednesday, June 1, 2016. Obama arrived in Colorado ahead of his Thursday, June 2 commencement speech at the Air Force Academy graduation. (AP Photo/Brennan Linsley)

President Barack Obama smiles as he prepares to greet officials gathered at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs Wednesday night, June 1, 2016. (Pat Duncan/The Colorado Statesman)

President Barack Obama smiles as he prepares to greet officials gathered at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs Wednesday night, June 1, 2016. (Pat Duncan/The Colorado Statesman)

President Barack Obama walks to his limousine shortly after his arrival at Peterson Air Force Base, in Colorado Springs, Colo., Wednesday, June 1, 2016. Obama arrived in Colorado ahead of a Thursday, June 2 commencement speech at the Air Force Academy graduation. (AP Photo/Brennan Linsley)

President Barack Obama walks to his limousine shortly after his arrival at Peterson Air Force Base, in Colorado Springs, Wednesday, June 1, 2016. Obama arrived in Colorado ahead of a Thursday, June 2 commencement speech at the Air Force Academy graduation. (AP Photo/Brennan Linsley)

President Barack Obama prepares to get in his armored Cadillac limousine awaiting him on the Peterson Air Force Base tarmac in Colorado Springs Wednesday night, June 1, 2016. (Pat Duncan/The Colorado Statesman)

President Barack Obama prepares to get in his armored Cadillac limousine awaiting him on the Peterson Air Force Base tarmac in Colorado Springs Wednesday night, June 1, 2016. (Pat Duncan/The Colorado Statesman)

Reporting by the Associated Press with photo contributions from Statesman Photojournalist Pat Duncan.

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