Sunday, January 13, 2008

A Visit from the Commander in Chief

Sunday 13 January 2008

Yesterday was an extraordinary day. We had a visit from President Bush, Secretary of State Rice, U.S. Ambassador Crocker, and General Petraeus, the Commander of the Multi-National Force in Iraq.

War Room
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The preparations for the visit were pretty impressive. The Secret Service was here several days in advance, checking things out and planning. Because of my position as facility manager, they had lots of questions for me. They wanted to know about all the emergency systems, and also poked into every nook and cranny so they could determine how best to secure the building. The press people had lots of advance work to do as well, preparing photo locations, setting up lights, etc. All my work understanding the electrical system was put to good use, so we knew where to plug in all the high-wattage lights without overloading any circuits.

The command preparations were also interesting. During the days leading up to the visit there was the predictable flurry of activity. As the old adage goes: “If it moves, polish it, if it doesn’t move, paint it, and if it’s broke, get rid of it”. Essentially all other business was suspended during his visit except for essentials, so that the majority of the troops could go and see him. He appeared in the same venue as the USO show, on the large outdoor stage.

I did not go there, though, as my duties kept me in our headquarters. Because I am the facility manager, the White House people coordinating the visit wanted me available in case of power or building issues. This meant that I got to be one of the few people privileged to be in the room when the President came to our building.

Upon the President’s arrival, our commander brought him out into the operations center and briefed him on what we do here. Then the top leaders had a closed-door meeting in the “War Room” behind us. After that, the President came back out into the operations center where the press was waiting, and he made about a ten minute statement with us as the backdrop. I got to sit in the operations center and watch the whole thing, including when they made their entrance and walked by about ten feet away from me. It was interesting to be so close to them, and to think that they are the people who make the very top-level decisions that drive what we do here.

I liked what he had to say. He talked about the progress we’ve made in Iraq in the past year, and how General Petraeus’ strategy is working. He had some good things to say about the military people over here. One that rang true to me was “These people have been over here a long time. They miss their families”.

Originally uploaded by

After he was finished making his statement to the press and answering questions, he came back up to meet us, shake hands, and take photos. I might be visible in the back of the photos – I’m not sure. I didn’t get to shake his hand, although I was standing only a few feet away. There were several enlisted soldiers in front of me, and I did not want to push through them to reach him. So the President shook their hands and spoke with each of them for a moment. He’s a good politician and leader, though – he looked up and saw me, made eye contact and smiled with a nod of his head and a resolute look.

I know he is a controversial figure back home and an object of derision and even outright hatred among some on the left. But I admire him for his steadfast commitment to this mission and to ensuring that we don’t leave Iraq in the lurch.

As you might imagine, the rest of the day was anticlimactic. Since everyone else was down at the stage, it was quiet for several hours, and then slowly people filtered back and we picked up where we had left off. Back to work….

Mood: Quiet
Music: Silence


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