Tuesday, November 17, 2009

We had to arrive at Elmendorf Air Force Base at 5:45AM. They had this crazy machine to check driver’s licenses, which looked like a ray gun. I was with Gary (he was cameraman, I was field producer), and at first, his license didn’t go through with the machine, and he had to pull over while they tried to figure out whether there was a problem with him or their machine. One of the guards, a really young guy, told me, “To tell you the truth, we just got issued these today, I have no idea how they work!” I told him it reminded me of a Star Trek laser gun and he stuck his out and went, “Pew Pew Pew!” So it was nice to see Elmendorf gate people were pretty laid back! Once we were both cleared, we received Elmendorf presses passes (to go with our own press passes) and got directed in our cars to the “Search Pit,” which was just a small hangar with two doors, so you drove in one side and out the other. Only one car at a time was allowed in the “pit.” Once inside, the guards instructed me to open every single compartment in the truck. I even undid the small compartments under the rear bench where the tire jack is kept, just in case. But it went really quickly, they briefly searched the car and then let me through. We were then allowed to drive in our own cars, in a convoy line of cars led by a van driven by the Public Affairs people, directly to the event location, at Hangar One. We set up our gear on a riser directly facing the stage. I was surprised we were so close to the stage. After we set up our gear, we had to leave and the earliest we could return was 10:30AM. During that time, we were told that the Secret Service did a “security sweep” of all the gear. Some said that they probably brought in a portable x-ray machine and x-rayed all the gear. We’ll never know! They told us we could stay on base in a press room, where there would be food and phones, etc. but we decided, since it was only 7AM, that we’d rather leave the base and return at 10:30AM.

When we returned at 10:30, things were a bit more serious. We took the same car this time, and this time in the search pit there was a German Shepard search dog and we actually had to leave the hangar altogether during the search. One funny thing is that we were driving our boss’ Saab, and Gary couldn’t figure out for a few minutes how to pop the front hood (which we hadn’t had to do earlier in the morning!) But he figured it out and after a while of waiting outside the hanger in the freezing cold, we were allowed to continue on. This time, instead of being convoyed to the Hangar, we had to park the car away from the hangar and take a van to the site.

Upon re-entering the hangar, there was a table set up where we had to check in for a White House Press Pass. I had to leave my purse in the entry area for a security dog, which wasn’t there yet. So I left it and went through the hangar door, where there was a Secret Service guy who frisked us before we could return to the riser and our gear. Later I went back out to get my purse and I tried to get around the Secret Service search and this Secret Service agent stopped me and said, “If you go out, you get searched again.” So basically you were trapped in the hangar after that unless you wanted to be searched again. After that, we waited and waited and waited! They wouldn’t any press cover both the arrival in Air Force One and the event, you had to RSVP to the White House Public Affairs AND Elmendorf Public Affairs office that you were attending one or the other. So we had a different crew waiting for the plane landing, and they let us know when Obama was in a limo on the way to us. We would have known anyway, because at about 1:15PM, the White House cameraman and sound person came running in and set up his camera front and center on the riser, in the best location. They just take Air Force One and shoot at every event..pretty cool job! Anyway, while we were waiting, they had a band playing the entire time, and it wasn’t just patriotic marching songs, it was really good jazz! They even did Rapper’s Delight by the Sugar Hill Gang! The music was a big help in the waiting process. Plus there were hundreds of young soldiers there, and lots of their kids, and mood was pretty elevated. We could tell right before Obama was coming out because the entire crowd nearest the stage held up their cameras and cell phone cams. There were a few false starts, like when they invited someone out to say a prayer right before Obama took the stage. (That's the pic of everyone bowing).

Obama gave a 15 minutes speech and then mingled for 15 minutes. The speech was pretty somber, given this was just a few days from the shooting incident at Ft. Hood, but people were still super excited and cheering like mad. A lot of the older grizzled news veteran types from ABC were saying that Obama’s smile and general demeanor seemed really genuine. I thought he would just slowly go down the front row shaking hands on his way out, but he completely mingled with the service people both on the stage and all throughout the crowd. The entire thing lasted 30 minutes, but I think all that waiting was worth it! (the nice closeup pic was taken by cameraman Gary Johnson with his great lens!)


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