Tuesday, September 1, 2015

That time I met the President

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Full disclosure- I've never met a sitting President.  Nor have I met  an ex, former, or even dead President for that matter, but that's a hell of a teaser don't you think?  I have been in an audience for two Presidents however- 41 and 42-  George H. W. Bush, and William H. Clinton.  It was so long ago for both of them that I'm shaking off a lot of cobwebs for today's post, but I remember enough of the details to make it worth your time.

In the summer of 1985, I participated in the American Legion's Boys' State program, where we set up a mock government to learn about local, state, and federal government as well as the legislative process. That led to my Senior year in high school when I took a Social Studies elective about current events.  I was hoping to get into the Naval Academy so I was packing my schedule with all kinds of academic rigor, hoping it would make me a better candidate.  Fortunately it didn't help, as the academic rigor at the Boat School would have surely done me in, at least that's what my Calculus and Physics grades in College tell me.  In the class we discussed US and global politics, the election process, and whatever were the major news stories of the day.

The hijacking of TWA Flight 847
Terrorism was one topic we drilled down into specifically because of airplane hijackings, the Beirut Barracks bombing, and others.  Terrorism was brutal back then, but mild in comparison to today's horrors.  The discussions included the event depicted above, which occurred in June of '85 and resulted in the murder of Steelworker Second Class and Diver Robert D. Stethem, of Underwater Construction Team ONE.  He posthumously received the Bronze Star for his heroism and USS Stethem (DDG-63) is named in his honor.




Boys' State and that course really piqued my interest and were probably the catalyst for a lifetime of fascination with politics and current events, not to mention a well-shared hatred of terrorists.  However, my interest has waned over the years, probably due to a better understanding of - and disgust with - the process, hence my periodic pithy political posts that I force upon you from time to time.  

But I was supposed to be telling you about that time I met the Presidents.  Fast forward to my first year in Flight School.  The National Museum of Naval Aviation was honoring President George Herbert Walker Bush with a tribute recognizing him being a Naval Aviator.

N2S KAYDET (aka Stearman) flown twice by then-Aviation Cadet Bush.
I was sitting in the VT-86 Ready Room when an instructor came in asking who wanted to go see President Bush.  With my interest in politics, and Bush being the first President I ever voted for, I quickly accepted.  I really don't remember much more about this event than where I was seated or standing- high up and far away, and that he mentioned how cold it was flying that open cockpit in the winter.  They dedicated the above airplane to him, and have his logbook nearby, showing the Bureau Number listed for two training flights.

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Seeing Bush might have been more memorable had it been more difficult.  I think we just showed up about an hour early, went through a metal detector, and took our places.  I don't remember the security being all that rigorous, but then again, we were on a Navy base, we were all Naval Aviators or students, and the political discourse was a bit more civilized than it is today.

I think it started to get less amicable when this guy was elected.  In 1996, President Clinton visited the USS INDEPENDENCE (CV-62) which was  docked at her homeport in Yokosuka Japan.  What I remember most is how much of a pain in the ass that event was.  And while I didn't vote for Clinton, It would be unfair to blame him for the misery incurred that day.

A week or so ago, I read a post somewhere regarding some Air Force leadership that had completely overstepped their authority by administratively punishing some pilots they thought had taken drugs, even when the evidence didn't support it.  While not exactly the same sort of situation, it made me think about the crazy decisions each step of the chain of command might make to either impress, or eliminate concern from- the next higher link in the chain.  If their immediate superior isn't happy, then nobody is happy.  Unfortunately, making the lowest rung of that ladder happy isn't part of the equation.


"We had to get dressed up for this guy?"
Several of those decision were probably made in the days leading up to President Clinton's visit.   Leadership wanted to ensure a big crowd for the President so each squadron was given a quota for participation based on the number of personnel.  The VS-21 Fighting Redtails comprised the largest squadron in CVW-5 so we had to send the most men to the Indy.  I don't remember exactly how many of us were on the bus, but I do remember it being quite full.  The CO had asked for volunteers, but only had a few, and I was not one of them.   I had no interest in seeing President Clinton, maybe because we didn't share a set of politics, but probably because putting on a dress uniform and taking up half or more of my weekend wasn't high on my list of things I like to do.  Whether I was just unlucky, or I had ticked off the OPSO, I have no idea, but my number came up.  The wife even decided to accompany me, which only allowed some other lucky bastard in my squadron to get off scot-free.  I should have figured out some sort of angle where I could have profited from her decision, but I guess I was too bummed out to think of it.

Even though the President wasn't due to show up until around 1400, we had to show up for the bus from Atsugi to Yoko, usually a 90 minute drive depending on traffic, at 0900.  I'm not sure who made that decision, but I'm sure it wasn't anyone who had to go.  We arrived at the bus on time, only to find out that it wasn't scheduled to leave until 1000.  Apparently at least a little common sense was found by someone, but not by anyone who thought to tell the unlucky few.  Traffic was unremarkable on the freeway so we arrived around 1115.

Another bright idea from someone was that we were told not to bring a single solitary thing except our ID cards.  That meant no wallets, keys, change, or more importantly- water bottles and sunscreen.  I don't remember what time of year it was, but we were in Service Dress Blues as you can see in the picture above, and it was quite warm. Standing in the sun, on a steel flight deck, wearing SDBs and Corfram shoes was damn hot - Africa hot.  I remember getting a sunburn on my face because I quickly sweated off the sunscreen I had applied before leaving the bus.  

The lack of water was somewhat of a problem since it was warm, but probably a good idea since we weren't allowed to go inside the skin of the ship to use the head- we had to go back to the pier to use the porta-johns they had set up for the occasion.  I guess allowing us in the ship was too much of a security risk.
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The President's helo was over an hour late.  I have no idea who to blame for that once, but I remember actually getting a little excited when he landed.  Not to see him, but that I knew our misery was that much closer to ending.  After the requisite donning of the flight jacket that you see below, he made some remarks about us out here on the tip of the spear, being a valuable part of National Defense Policy.  Other than that I don't recall.




Well, to paraphrase Forrest Gump- that's all I got to say about that.  Would I do it again if I had a choice?  Absolutely not.  While the opportunity to see a sitting President might sound exciting, it's far more trouble than it's worth.  Because of the precautions were were ordered to take, arriving so early to get through security lines didn't take any time at all.  If we had been seated while waiting, it probably wouldn't have been as rough as it was, but we were there to mob the flight deck and it was standing room only, no sitting allowed.  Hmm.  This was probably when my opinion of politics started to turn.

If it had been another Republican President I might consider going to see him or her, but probably not.  If it's Clinton's wife someday?  Take a guess.  If it ever came down me to being told that I have to go?

I'll pay someone to take their wife.  

15 comments:

  1. You're two up on me. Sounds like you're two steps (at least) closer to American Sainthood.

    For some goofy reason it surprises me that you were a wee sprout in '85. I was there on BENO having a more exciting time than anticipated. There was a lot going on that month and as it turns out it was not my favorite President's finest hour. But I'll take a couple of honest firetruckups from a real President.

    I've developed, for what it's worth, the theory that it's not the elected, it's the electorate.

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    1. True, we get what we elect, and therefore deserve.

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  2. I had the honor of being the naval task force commander for the support of the 1987 economic summit in Venice, Italy. All transportation was by boat, and USN was tasked to provide same.. Rode in a boat for a week plus every day (and night) with Ronald Reagan and (for the last half) Mrs Reagan. Three vignettes:

    He never failed to address me by name coming and going, and the same with the entire boat crew(!) Imagine being an E-3 and having POTUS address you by name.

    When Mrs Reagan insisted upon standing up in the boat's cockpit with me (therefore exposed, much to the displeasure of the secret service) and refused to stop doing so when asked by the President, he turned to me and asked if I had the same problem with my wife. (Answer" Yes Mr President" followed by smiles all around, including Mrs Reagan)

    The next to the last night he asked me if I minded if he brought someone along for the ride. I "naturally" said he could (!). The next thing I knew Margaret Thatcher is in my boat with the President. THAT's a high value cargo! She very graciously thanks me for the ride upon disembarkation.

    The man was a Prince.

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  3. I have attempted to miss every opportunity to see a sitting President.
    Missed it by that much.
    I have only been in Dallas once, to a convention.
    President Reagan addressed that convention.
    I had some kind of duties at that particular session.
    So I saw him from about 250 feet away.
    Couldn't tell you a word he said.

    Oh, and once, when Nixon was Veep, I saw him speak ...and drive by sitting up high in the back seat of a convertible.

    The only other time I was anywhere near a President was when the current one shut down the freeway in Seattle.

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    1. Thanks for the reminder of something I was planning on putting in the post, but completely forgot. When I was in the RAG, Clinton enjoyed vacationing in Coronado. Since the NASNI runway was quite close to the home he visited while there, I did get to see Air Force One up close a few times. When he traveled by car however, traffic on the entire island was stopped- North Island included if he was leaving or coming onto the base. THAT was a pain in the ass, Of course that was the Secret Service, and not the Prez, but that didn't change the fact that I didn't like it.

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  4. I had the "pleasure" of sitting in my vehicle, on the way home from work, while the Secret Service shut down a large part of Denver and all of Lowry AFB so that then Vice President Bush's motorcade could take a "short cut" through Lowry. It was "interesting," I sat for perhaps 90 minutes in classic government hurry up and wait mode.

    I saw the motorcade from perhaps a quarter mile away.

    My parents once had lunch with then former President Bush up in Maine. Well, they were in the same restaurant. It was a small place so I guess that counts.

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  5. I saw President Truman once in Seattle when I was eight or nine years of age. My Mom, who took me to the parade, said, "You'll never forget this day, seeing a living President." She was right. I also saw the balloons drop on President Eisenhower and Vice President Nixon at the Republican Convention in San Francisco in 1955. I was a "Young Republican" delegate (AKA gofer coffee, etc.) Better times somehow. Ignorance is truly bliss.

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  6. I had pancakes with Barry Goldwater and Richard Nixon, back in '64. Of course, so did a couple thousand other folks (it was a political fundraiser/breakfast) and I was nine years old at the time. At least I knew who they were. The only other close encounter, if it even qualifies, was seeing Air Force One land & then take off again from Elmendorf AFB in Anchorage, back around 2007. Pres. Bush the Younger addressed the airmen while his plane was refueled, but never left the base.

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  7. Good stories. I can't believe - well, yeah, I can believe, but don't want to believe - they decided to fill quotas to see Clinton. Ick.

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  8. I was in between my Junior and Senior year in College and got invited to the AFA National Convention. As part of that invitation, I was invited to the White House to watch the signing of the 1976 NDAA by President Ford. The guys in the Row in front of me all wore 4 and had titles beginning with Chairman and Chief. In front of them was the table. I was on the aisle. After he signed, President Ford as he was walking out, stopped and shook my hand. Small Frog in a very, very very large pond.

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  9. I met Bush 41 at NAS Moffett because I couldn't get out of the way fast enough... Sigh... At least I didn't have to stand for three hours to do it.

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  10. Reading these comments about interacting with Presidents, affirms my belief that we are important people here at this blogspot.

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    1. Nothing but the finest around these parts.

      (He said with a grin...)

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  11. I'd have liked to see GWB. Or Reagan, which would have happened when I was in high school. These days? Hell no.

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  12. I never met or saw in person a current or former president. Couldn't stand most that were around in my lifetime except Reagan. The closest I ever came was G. Gordon Liddy. I was boarding a flight back home from a business trip to somewhere or other back in the late 80s, I don't recall where at the moment, and he was seated in first class. As I passed he looked up, grinned at my open mouth and stupefied expression and we nodded to each other. That's one guy I would have liked to gotten into a conversation with, but my company only springs for seats in the non bathing section. So I continued to be herded along to the back of the big, flying bus..........................

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Just be polite... that's all I ask. (For Buck)