Saturday, March 04, 2006

Behind the Scenes...

So, yeah, the President of the United States was here. W - i - l - d, that's what it was. It is pretty cool to see the POTUS machine in operation, I tell you. We had literally hundreds of people here in the weeks leading up to his visit to India - people negotiating the nuclear separation deal, people arranging security, people doing walkthroughs, people talking mangoes and agriculture. It was crazy. Right before the visit, a storm of military and other official personnel swept through, including the K-9 unit, armed forces, and secret service. The motorcade alone was about 90 cars I believe. (And I'm not giving anything away, because all of this was published in the local papers. They knew exactly what floors folks were staying on.)

I was the site officer for one event, the President's Greeting to the Embassy community (i.e. the "meet and greet"). Luckily, I did not have to deal with Government of India contacts, which would have raised the degree of difficulty considerably. But it was still quite a trick to work with the White House staff, secret service, tentwallahs, and our own internal staff to transform our Ambassador's lawn into a suitable place for the President, the First Lady, the Secretary of State, and the Ambassador and his wife to spend a little quality time with 700 embassy staff.

Planning went well, and it was a pleasure working with the White House and Secret Service staff. Things didn't get really hectic until the actual event. I had heard that when Secretary Powell visited before, there was such an intense push for handshakes that some people, including parents with kids, got pushed and almost stepped on. So, we had the bright idea to make a separate special stage area for kids under 16, about 120 kids in all. We had them clustered inside the rope line area, so we needed to take special care that they not run up to the President during his speech. Guess who got that job?

While the kids started out on their best behavior, it is asking quite a bit for them to sit quietly for an hour in the sun for anyone, even the President. (Especially when the younger kids were confused on just what the big deal was, anyway...). Unfortunately, the president (who is quite often 10 minutes ahead of time) ended up being about 45 minutes late. This did not go over so well with the slowly-roasting-in-the-sun kids. I was stationed right by them, watching them wilt, most coming down from earlier sugar highs. They went from excited to bored to squirmy. Then one of the boys started alternately kissing and kicking the kids around him. So, we needed some action. We ended up serenading the crowd with songs, and even did the wave. Thank goodness the President's party finally arrived.

Or so I thought. When they arrived, the same kid who had been kissing and kicking everyone made a run for the stage! He tried to hug Ms. Bush and then tried to throw down the microphones. You could see the muscles twitch in all the security people's arms. I went to catch him, but Ms. Bush turned to me and said "Oh, he's alright, let me talk to him." Eek! Now, we had all been informed, do not talk to the POTUS party, and stay out of the photo shot. By trying to gently corral this child, I was being led right to the stage area, and then I was talking to Ms. Bush.

So I of course said, "Um, yes ma'am" and just backed away. She was great though; she clearly has kids, and I do not. She guided him off the stage like a pro. His mom was duly mortified. The president gave his speech, took photos with the kids, and worked the rope line. Everyone had a great time.

(By the way, nuclear nonproliferation - is this just a seriously flawed concept or what? Well, that's for others to think about. For me, after the Meet and Greet, the POTUS visit was pretty much over. I also got to attend his speech at the Old Fort, which has been received with great acclaim across India. I thought it was ok, but it definitely played well in the papers. His entrance seemed to me to be straight out of Triumph of the Will, if you've seen that. Very dramatic.)

10 Comments:

At 5:29 AM, Blogger Consul-At-Arms said...

Congratulatins on surviving your experience as a Site Officer for a POTUS visit!

 
At 7:56 AM, Blogger Editfish said...

Just out of curiosity, why are you not able to talk to the POTUS party? Is it a security issue, or a procedural one?

 
At 10:45 AM, Blogger Crawdad said...

Thanks CAA. It was a great experience. Consular work is good, meat-and-potatoes work, but this was fun.

Editfish, good question. Of course, security is always issue #1, but I think the main thing here is that they don't want any overeager JOs trying to get in a photo with the President's party. And if you looked like you had any malicious intent, well, that would be very bad. But most of the time, I imagine it's an issue of someone wanting their 5 minutes of fame, at the expense of the rest of their career.

In this case, it quickly became clear to me that Mrs. Bush had decided she was going to wait while her husband did the greeting along the ropeline. (Good decision - as that man was just mobbed by people.) So it was probably fine. But I didn't want to shorten my career by being that guy, if you know what I mean....

 
At 2:53 AM, Blogger Consul-At-Arms said...

Yeah, you never want to be "that guy."

It's odd what people will remember forever.

 
At 4:07 AM, Blogger Alizarin said...

Wild. Sounds like fun. (He looks like a liar even from behind.)

 
At 8:24 AM, Blogger Editfish said...

Gotcha. It's better to be razzed for a few days about letting the kid get by than be remembered forever for chasing him/her up on stage...

Thanks!

 
At 10:24 PM, Anonymous alchemist said...

Collectively, I think maybe our family is Forrest Gump. Well, we have better hair.

 
At 11:09 PM, Anonymous shrinkwrap said...

Hehehehehe...fun times. Does remind me of little boys in front of church for sermonette time. Crawdad you done good. Did Laura really talk to you? Wow!

 
At 7:46 AM, Blogger Cassandro said...

That's a great story! Did the prez look fit? I saw his dad in person once, he said hi to a driver; seemed nice.
Somewhere I have a picture with Al Gore. He and Tipper stood in a receiving line for literally hours. I don't know how politicians do it, especially when they are supposed to be up on policy stuff too (they are, aren't they?)

 
At 11:19 AM, Blogger Alizarin said...

Part of me still wants to say ... "Dude! You worked with Secret Service and the White House staff? Did you meet Josh Lyman?" ... But, OK, I won't. Because that would be gauche.

 

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