Today's DrudgeReport.com
Drudge's Special Reports

Recent Headlines
Popular Headlines
Time Line


Support The DrudgeReport; Visit Our Advertisers




Trip of the President to Baghdad
Pool Reporter Mike Allen's [WASH POST] Private Notes
Nov. 26 and 27 (Thanksgiving Day), 2003

The President left Waco secretly Wednesday at 8:25 p.m. Eastern (7:25 p.m. Texan) with a small pool, stopped at Andrews to pick up a few staff and a few more poolers, change planes and then head to Baghad. Both flights were what we think of as the normal Air Force One, Boeing 747 with the normal marking. The President landed in darkness at Baghdad International Airport at 9:31 a.m. Washington time (5:32 p.m. local) on Thursday, Nov. 27, Thanksgiving Day. He took off at 12:03 p.m. Eastern time, so was in Baghdad roughly 2.5 hours.

The staff aimed to keep the trip secret until after he had taken off from Baghdad ? no filing was permitted from the site, by the pool or by locals. The President landed with barely a sliver of a moon. He was already in a white Land Rover or Land Cruiser by the time the pool reached the Tarmac. The staff said the motorcade was 12 vehicles plus a military ambulance. Short motorcade of less than five minutes through a blacked out, rutty part of the airport, which looks like a military base. Passed Humvees, dog teams. The President pulled up to the back of the Bob Hope Dining Facility, a huge soft-sided, white building that looks like the most expensive and sturdy type of party tent. The soldiers, we were told about 60

The programs at each place said "Happy Harvest Thanksgiving 2003 Baghdad, Iraq." On the front were the logos of the First Armored Division ("Old Ironsides") and the logo of the Combined Joint Task Force Operation Iraqi Freedom. Menu was boiled shrimp with cocktail sauce, roast turkey and cranberry sauce, baked ham, prime rib of roast, glazed Cornish hen, sweet potatoes, buttered mash potatoes, savory bread dressing and corn bread dressing, turkey gravy, buttered corn on the cob, seasoned green beans; pumpkin, sweet potato, pecan, apple and cherry pie; assorted candies and nuts; assorted salads; assorted breads and rolls; sparkling grape wine; eggnog and assorted beverages. On the table were non-alcoholic malt brew and sparking grape juice.

Soldiers were at long tables with paper tablecloths showing harvest scenes, with soft drink with Arabic writing. The high-ceilinged hall was hung with American flags and the tables had paper, pop-out turkeys.

The event had been set up with Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, and Paul Bremer, the chief civilian administrator. When the President arrived, the soldiers were still thinking those would be the speakers. General Sanchez said, "God bless you for all of your sacrifices," and hurriedly introduced Ambassador Bremer. Bremer said he had Thanksgiving greetings from the President. But then Bremer, hamming it up, looked toward stage left and said, "Let's see if we've got anyone more senior here." Then the President came out and the room erupted even before he reached the stage, with soldiers standing on chairs, standing on tables to bark, hoot, yell and "Hoo-ah!" their approval.


The President then plunged into the crowd to meet with the soldiers. He served food and worked the entire length of the long building. The President seemed to be into the serving thing. "What do you want?" At one point he said, "How many do you want, one or two?" Secretary Card worked the crowd separately. The President did not eat while the journalists were in.


The President was wearing blue shirt, dark slacks and a PT (Physical Training) jacket bearing the patch of the First Armored Division (Old Ironsides).


Following are quotes from three random soldiers:

Private Stephen Henderson, 19, of Inglewood, Calif., an Army infantryman, part of 1st Armored Division, 1st Brigade, 1st Battalion, 36th Infantry (136 Spartans), Task Force 137 ? has been in Iraq 1.5 week and expects to be here five or six more month.

"I've never been so surprised. I had no idea ? not a clue. I feel uplifted. I almost forgot I was even here."


PFC Mark Hansen, 29, of Hillsborough, N.J., an Army field artillery surveyor (sorry no unit ?my bad), re the President, "I never thought he would be here. I'm proud to have him as the commander-in-chief. You can't beat it." Re Iraq: "It's frightening. Once you here the first shot, your adrenaline is pumping and you're in the game."


Staff Sgt. Gerrie (cq) Stokes Holloman, 34, of Baltimore, who is stationed in Wiesbaden, Germany, with the 1st Armored Division, 141 Signal Battalion, a multichannel communications specialist?her sons, Andrew, 10, and Marcus, 6, and husband Michael Holloman are back in Germany. She left them 45 days ago and expects to be here until April. "I think it's great. It shows that he cares about us and is thinking about us. It's not easy being here. Every day you're over here, you feel depressed anyway. But it's especially hard on a holiday and this is the kickoff of the holidays. For the most part people are tired, and want to go home. But the support and encouragement we get from our leadership builds a bond with our soldiers."


Sanchez told reporters he was out today talking to soldiers and the only morale problem he found was that soldiers who were not U.S. citizens said they were having trouble becoming citizens, and said that would be the best Christmas present ever. "Not a single soldier had an issue," he said. "Absolutely, there is no more problem here in this community."

***Sanchez on the security: Said he found out about the visit 72 hours ago and arranged for the extra security by telling them: "Because we're expecting some kind of threat." The workers didn't know it was the President coming. "You have to get into your military decision and say, 'Do it.' "


At about 10:55 a.m. Eastern, the pool was taken out and put in the vans. As we passed a military police Humvee, a soldier helmeted soldier who was working in the dark and mud while other dined inside, "You all know the Third ID is still here, right?" A huge cheer was heard from inside as the President left and the vehicles rolled at 10:58 a.m. Eastern.


The President was to meet with four Iraq Governing Council members, including Mr. Chalabi, according to a senior coalition official. The President rode a very brief motorcade to an office building, where he met with the Iraq Governing Council members upstairs. Then he went downstairs and was to meet with Sanchez and Brig. Gen. Marty Dempsey, commander of the First Armored Division.


Before Air Force One landed in Baghdad, Communications Director Dan Bartlett stepped into the press cabin to brief under gaggle rules. He wore jeans, boots and a University of Texas Longhorns T-shirt with the Nike swoosh. Bartlett: "The basic program right now is for the President, upon arrival, will go to a chow hall right there near the airport, where there'll be approximately 600 troops, mostly made up of the First Armored Division, but there will be others. {hellip} In and around Baghdad is essentially where these troops are coming from." Staying at the base/airport?chow hall is either on airport property or right adjacent to it

Most people at the even "do not know he's coming. Bremer and General Sanchez are right now the planned speakers. {hellip} They're supposed to be reading a statement from the President, as they typically do on an occasion such as this. The President's going to pinch-hit for them ? come in and do it in person." "It is absolutely critical, when we land, that you do not open your windows. Particularly as we land and when we're on the ground, we want no light emanating from the plane. We will not be pulling up to a terminal. {hellip} We will be stopping at the end of the runway. It's just important that we move quickly, do not open up the windows to illuminate any light."

Asked whether plane was flying under other code than Air Force One: "I'm not going to be able to go into all the security measures that are being taken and how we are flying. But it's safe to say that is correct ? that people on the ground do not know that this is Air Force One that's landing." "The plan is for the President to speak to the troops. He will then go to the chow line, grab some chow, sit down with some troops, eat Thanksgiving supper with the troops. He will then work the room for a considerable period of time, meeting and greeting with as many troops as possible. He will then go to a different building. It'll probably be a short motorcade. He will meet with a few members of the Governing Council. {hellip} Then the President will meet with the command staff. This is basically General Sanchez and General Dempsey, the commander in charge of Baghdad. {hellip} That will conclude the program and he'll return to the plane and fly out."

Scheduled to be on ground from 5:30 to 8:05 p.m. local.

"Right now, the standard protocol of this is going to be no reporting while we're on the ground. The local press there will not have the capability to report until the President is wheels up. So this is an embargoed event until then. Now, if that is compromised, we will make every effort we can to accommodate you to make sure that you can match and work at the same time."

"The first conversation about this trip took place approximately five or six weeks ago ? the concept of visiting the troops during the holidays. The President instructed him to do some diligence on the logistics of this. Joe Hagin, the deputy chief of staff, is the one who's been spearheading this trip. The President went to the next level of committing to do the trip during the Asia trip. There are a certain amount of people you have to include in planning something like this. So they went to the next level of due diligence. He made a final call this morning. {hellip} He had two kind of final opportunities to make a decision. One was while he was in Las Vegas, he gave the final approval, which required another level of planning. And then made the final, final approval this morning when he was on a CIVITS call this morning with the chief of staff, the vice president and Dr. Rice." secure videoconference, where he gets his intelligence briefing

"Secretary Rumsfeld knows, as do General Abizaid, General Sanchez and Ambassador Bremer, but very few outside of those command structure know or knew or about the logistics. All this, to this point now, is still called a conditional trip. If this breaks while we're in the air, we're turning around. That's why we've gone to the measures we have to ensure the safety and security of the President and those traveling with him, and we also thought it would be a neat opportunity to surprise the troops. The President generally believes that this is a unique opportunity to thank the troops firsthand who are on the front lines in this critical mission and to do so at a time when many Americans gather around their tables and are joining family and friends to reflect on all the things we cherish as a country. But they'll also be thinking about those who are serving overseas and in harm's way, and the President is honored to be able to bring the good wishes and prayers of the American pe ople directly to the troops in the field. So he's excited about the trip, he's looking forward to it. His parents don't know. They're going to arrive there this morning. {hellip} The girls were told a few hours before he left. Mrs. Bush has known longer than them. {hellip} The president encountered and witnessed traffic for the first time in three years on the way to the airport in an unmarked vehicle. That was a little amusing to those who were riding with him."

Trip to took a typical 45 minutes; wouldn't have known it was Bush by looking at the vehicle; was taken on back of plane; "If you were sitting outside the ranch waiting for the President, you would not have known the President just left."

Impression was left based on question that the ground staff thought it was a maintenance flight: "I think most people are used to the fact that Air Force One takes off and lands occasionally while the President's here. Precautions were taken necessary to ensure that the President was not known to be on the plane." When boarding plane the President was wearing work coat, baseball cap, jeans, boots, button-down shirt.

Any precedent for this? "We were talking about it. We don't have any recollection. But we haven't done any research to verify that." Asked if it is appropriate for the President to be spirited half a world away with few people knowing: "It is appropriate for the president to visit troops, particularly troops who are on the front lines of such a critical mission for the safety of the American people and in a troubled part of the region. It is also appropriate that the President travel in a way which in which his security and safety is not compromised. We recognize the role of the public's right to know of the travels of the President, and that's why members of the media are on the trip and are here to document and report what takes place."

Asked about air space that might not be friendly if not traveling as Air Force One: "I can assure you that those type of contingencies have all been considered."

Didn't know whether the Vice President was anyplace special: "Typically on a trip, when the President's oversea, as long as he's in the continental United States, it's fine."

Senior staff on the plane consists of Mr. Hagin, Secretary Card, Dr. Rice and Mr. Bartlett. Dr. Tubbs onboard. 13 in press cabin


A senior administration official, to the press cabin: "This has been in the planning for several weeks for a reason, and that's because of the security climate which we're operating in. The assessment is the President's confident that enough measures have been taken to ensure his safety as well as the safety of the people traveling and those he's meeting with on the ground."


The Journey?Please note especially 10:45 p.m., a sighting of the President?Summary: Pool activated in extraordinary swiftness and secrecy, Air Force One ran without some of its usual lights and faster than usual. Officials hoped to get the President into Baghdad, and perhaps out, before the trip was reported.

4:40 p.m. Eastern (3:40 p.m. Texan) Wednesday?Your pooler was standing on the lawn in front of the Crawford filing center, talking on his cell phone, when Steve Atkiss, 26, Deputy Director of Presidential Advance, beckoned for him to climb into his mammoth white rented Dodge pickup. He drove your pooler a few blocks to a concealed parking lot and told him to step out, that someone wanted to talk to him. Communications Director Dan Bartlett was there, along with Deputy Press Secretary Claire Buchan. Bartlett smiled mischievously at the surprise meeting. "I have news," he said. "The President is going to Baghdad." He said this writer would be the newspaper pooler, and said we would be stopping in Washington to refuel and pick up a few other journalists. He said the staff had only discussed the trip on secure lines and that they hoped no word of it would get out until the President was on the ground or even had left. Like most other members of the pool, this writer was forbidden to tell his employer or family what was up. Your pooler climbed back in the truck and Atkiss said that at 5:30 Texas time, he was to be in the parking lot of the Baylor field where we play softball.

6:30 p.m. Eastern (5:30 p.m. Texan) ? Arriving at the parking lot, several of the photogs still thought it was an elaborate practical joke. 6:45 p.m. Eastern (5:45 p.m. Texan) -- A Bloomberg reporter, four still photographers, your pooler and White House photographer Tina Hager piled into Atkiss's truck and a photographer's car and pulled around to the back of the Marriott Residence Inn, where we went to look for one other photog who had been unreachable, and luckily was located in time. He had been asleep, behind two closed doors, so he hadn't heard when Atkiss came knocking earlier. The photog's cell phone was in his car, but he was wakened by his pager, about the time Atkiss beat on the door again. The photog, gently accusing Atkiss of an elaborate joke and naming the photographer he thought was behind it, had five minutes to get ready. The two-vehicle motorcade from the softball field was joined by a white Jeep Grand Cherokee driven by Blake Gottesman, the President's per sonal aide, with Deputy Chief of Staff Joseph Hagin riding shotgun and Dan Bartlett in the back seat. Everything around the White House has a huge infrastructure, but these three vehicles were what it could be at its most stripped down. With no security, Atkiss led the way to TSTC Airport in Waco, enduring rush-hour traffic, an experience rare in the bubble.

7:15 p.m. Eastern (6:15 p.m. Texan) ? The press boarded Air Force One through the customary rear stairs. It was odd to be on the plane with little White House staff around and fewer Air Force One staff. The window shades were all pulled down. Mr. Hagin came back to greet us and asked us to take the batteries out of our cell phones, so the movement could not be tracked, and asked us not to turn them on in D.C. Some of the reporters had been told separately that they would be handed new phones when they hit the ground in Baghdad. A photographer said to one of his colleagues, "Do you believe it NOW?"

7:35 p.m. Eastern (6:35 p.m. Texan) ? Steve Atkiss told us that Baghdad time was nine hours ahead of Central time, 8 hours ahead of Eastern time, and that we would be returning to Waco around 5 a.m. Texas time on Friday. The journalists kibitzed about whether any President had flown out of the country unannounced, since perhaps FDR going to Yalta. Attendants passed out mini-pillows that said USAF on them, with the Presidential seal in blue on the white case, along with head sets and plastic-wrapped, navy-blue blankets that said "Air Force One" in embroidered script.

7:51 p.m. Eastern (6:51 p.m. Texan) ? In a very unusual move, a flight attendant closed the front door of the press cabin and the door to the Secret Service cabin, so we could not see the arrival of the President or the agents. We didn't know if he was coming by Suburban or Black Hawk or white top or what. 8:22 p.m. (7:22 p.m. Texan) ? Still blacked out from the rest of the plane, we heard Air Force One's engines rev. We heard gear being piled against the door of the Secret Service cabin.

8:25 p.m. (7:25 p.m. Texan) ? Air Force One was rolling.

8:27 p.m. (7:27 p.m. Texan) ? Air Force One was airborne. Journalists peeked out the shades and saw that the plane had on none of the running lights that are customarily visible, including the red or green ones on the wings. The movie "Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines" had begun playing in the press cabin. 8:45 p.m. ? The plane seemed to be going unusually fast, and please note below that the average speed was given to us as 665 mph. The door opened to the Secret Service cabin. The attendants began taking food trays up to the front of the plane, and asked the journalists if they wanted to eat. The trays had liners that said, "Welcome Aboard Air Force One." The tray contained a little glass pepper shaker and matching salt shaker; a crimson cloth napkin with a paper napkin ring with the Presidential seal in gold; a butter pat in a Land O Lakes wrapper; a china plate with two pieces of fried chicken, a scoop of potato salad, a small corn cob; a roll; a china plate with apple pie; and a glass, embossed with the Presidential seal, of lemonade. It is often noted that Air Force One is one of the few planes where you get a real knife. The beverage napkins are white with a light-blue Presidential seal and the words, with quotes around them on the napkin, "Aboard the Presidential Aircraf t." The movie "Open Range" played in the Secret Service cabin.

9:15 p.m. -- In a customary gesture on Air Force One flights, an attendant passed the press cabin one copy of a card, printed in-flight, detailing the trip. On one side of the white card, in blue, is the Presidential seal and the words "Welcome Aboard Air Force One." On the other side, in black, it said: "November 26, 2003. Our Destination Is: Andrews AFB, MD. Expected Arrival Time Is: 10:35 p.m. Time Change On This Leg: Lose 1 Hour. Flight Altitude Will Be: 29,000 Feet. Our Speed Will Average: 665 MPH. We Will Fly Over: Texarkana, TX Charleston, WV. DESTINATION WEATHER FORECAST Conditions: Cloudy. Current Temperature: 42 Degrees."

9:21 p.m. ? Richard Keil of Bloomberg News leaned across the aisle, shoved aside his I-Pod headset and grinned as he said: "The President of the United States is AWOL, and we're with him. The ultimate road trip."

10:08 p.m. ? We could feel ourselves starting to descend. We were told that at Andrews, we would be switching to the other Air Force One, which was fueled and catered and ready to go.

10:31 p.m. ? Touched down.

10:35 p.m. ? Stopped taxiing. The front door of the press cabin was closed, perhaps so we could not see some of the gear or personnel descending. Shortly thereafter, we stepped off the plane and were inside the super-secret Air Force One hangar at Andrews, with the other Air Force One at an angle abreast of the one we had flown in on. The floor is painted white, and the superstructure, which has girders that give it an industrial, hangarry look, is off-white. Red tape marked lines on the floor and a bright blue, low-slung tug was hooked to the plane. Air Force One rugs were at the bottom of the stairs.

***10:45 p.m. -- We walked the short distance between the planes in the noisy, brilliantly lit hangar and saw the President walking up the stairs that descend out of the belly of Air Force One, followed by Secretary Card, Dr. Rice and other aides. Some of the staff was in jeans. The President, wearing a work coat and baseball cap, paused at the top of the stairs when he spotted the reporters. The sound in the hangar was so loud that he couldn't be heard, but he held his thumb and pinkie apart, and raised them to his ear, in the symbol of someone using a phone, and mouthed, "No calls, got it?'' He emphasized the point by crossing his arms back and forth in front of him. He made the "cut" sign to his throat and mouthed again, No calls.'' The President's manner was that of a stern father reprimanding his children, but in good humor.

10:50 p.m. -- When the seven journalists from the first flight walked into the cabin, they saw the six who were joining in Washington. Everyone was surprised by the cast of characters ? we all had gotten a slightly different version of who was to be along. When the plane took off, 13 of the 14 seats in the press cabin were filled: writers from The Associated Press, Reuters and Bloomberg, plus the newspaper pooler; photographers from AP, Reuters, AFP, Time and Newsweek; and a correspondent, producer and two-person crew from Fox.

[Flackback: The journalists who boarded in Washington had been told at various times, going back to 8 p.m. on Tuesday, when Terence Hunt of the AP was told by a top White House official. Jim Angle, the Fox correspondent, found out around 11 a.m. Wednesday. Those journalists were told to meet at 8:30 p.m. at the Holiday Inn Express across from the main gate of Andrews Air Force Base. They were picked up in a black, unmarked van like those used to ferry the pool to Camp David. The van left about 8:40 p.m. and they went through the main gate and were driven to the hangar. Before they went into the hangar, they received a security sweep and relinquished control of their personal belongings. They put their cell phones, pagers and other small electronic devices in brown, clasp envelopes. Bags, cameras, etc. were held in the belly of the plane until after wheels-up. They walked up the back steps as usual, getting on a little after 9 p.m. A senior administration official said: The t rip had been in the works about 10 days. Secretary Rumsfeld knew about a week ago. Vice President Cheney, Secretary Powell and the First Lady know now. Dr. Rice told Mr. Hadley today. There was no official motorcade as the President was driven from the ranch. Some members of the detail think he is still at the ranch, according to this official.]

10:55 p.m. -- Dan Bartlett stopped back with a few details. "Nobody on the ground knows, but a handful of people," he said. An event was already planned with Ambassador Bremer and General Sanchez, and so that's what most people there thought they would be attending or covering. Some local reporters would be covering the Bremer-Sanchez event, but the staff was not sure how many. The President will speak to about 600 troops and eat a Thanksgiving meal with some of them. Bartlett said "they're going to great lengths" to keep the arrival a secret. He said it would be "a quick landing, a dark landing," and said the plane will not be lit up like it typically is. "The phones are down, the comms are down," he said, meaning that some of Air Force One's phones and communications equipment had been turned off to try to preserve the stealth mission. Sources said General Abizaid hoped to keep the trip secret until after the President had taken off to return. Steve Atkiss told the journali sts that he didn't want to alarm them, but they would be fitted for "ballistic vests."

11 p.m. ? The engines fired.

11:02 p.m. ? The plane rolled.

11:06 p.m. ? Takeoff. The digital clock under the television in the press cabin said WASHINGTON PM 1106, LOCAL PM 11:06, DESTINATION AM 7:06." The ride right after takeoff was rough, choppy. On Air Force One, little magazine racks are stocked with current issues with "Air Force One" bindings around them. In addition to the usuals like Time and Newsweek, the offerings include Bassmaster. By 11:19 p.m. ? The President was asleep.

11:30 Secretary Card, wearing sweat clothes and running shoes, poked his head into the press cabin, where everyone was jabbering. "Sleep! Sleep! Sleep!" he kidded. Asked about the number of flying hours, he said, "You'll have plenty of time to sleep."

12:01 a.m. Thursday ? Happy Thanksgiving. A flight attendant offered cake. There were few takers. The movie "Open Range" was playing as some journalists dozed or prepared to.

12:05 a.m. ? The Secret Service press agent came by with press passes to be worn on a neck chain. The agent asked the journalists to take off their old passes because officials would be checking extra carefully today.

12:15 a.m. ? Lights darkened in press cabin. The Service cabin was also dark.

7:55 a.m. ? After Bartlett briefing above, breakfast served ? cheese omelet, two Texas-sized sausages, little cup of oats, plain yogurt, blueberry muffin and orange juice.

8:28 a.m. ? Reporters try on camouflage, Velcro-front "ballistic vests." Keil, adjusting his, asked: "Anyone have a tailor?" Much of the staff changed into camouflage tops and bottoms, for security and to blend in and not spoil the pictures.

9:09 a.m. Washington time (5:09 p.m. Destination) ? Cabin lights are turned out and all the shades remain down.

9:22 a.m. Washington time ? We were told eight minutes out and could feel the descent. Shut down laptops. Cabin is dark except for blue3 light of clocks and light from agents' cabin. About half the journalists were already wearing their vests, which are Point Blank Body Armor.

9:31 a.m. Washington time (5:32 p.m. local) ? Touched down in swift abrupt landing, but not the emergency spiral that had been prepared for. Press walked down dark stairs onto Tarmac.

10:50 a.m. ? I had taken off my body armor to type, then saw a soldier I wanted to interview. I came back and my vest is gone. The laptop is still there. 11:56 a.m. Washington time ? We reboarded on a dark stretch of runway. A soldier or agent with a huge gun stood at the foot of the stairs as press Ids were checked.

11:59 a.m. ? Dan Bartlett stuck his head into the press cabin and said he believes the secret held. He said we would be allowed to file when we got above 10,000 feet.

Noon Eastern ? 8 p.m. local ? Rolling -- "Short taxi!" the attendant says. 12:03 p.m. Eastern ? Airborne. No one needed their vests. Shortly after takeoff, the bulletin could be heard on CNN on Channel 7 on the Air Force One audio system.

The President plans to speak to the pool onboard and I'll file Pool Report #2 on that.

The staff says we are expected to stop and refuel at Andrews and land at TSTC in Waco on Friday at 5 a.m. Texas time, 6 a.m. Eastern time. Thanks to White House staff I hopefully will have access to a phone line later. If you're a newspaper reporter in Waco, I want to answer your questions. Probably the only way to get a question to me is to send an e-mail with the question in the subject line. I'll try to log on but that will depend on access to phone line.

Filed By Matt Drudge
Reports are moved when circumstances warrant
http://www.drudgereportArchives.com for updates
Not for reproduction without permission of the author

The Drudge Report does not own, operate or maintain DrudgeReportArchives.com and is not responsible for it in any way.

Drudge Report : E-mail: drudge@drudgereport.com
Matt Drudge's Book: Drudge Manifisto
Matt Drudge on social media: Twitter (occasionally)
Matt Drudge music: Playlist

Home | DMCA | Link Decay

General Support:

Copyright © 2023 DrudgeReportArchives.com. All Rights Reserved.