Monday, December 29, 2014

Driving in a Presidential Motorcade

It seems that someone suddenly realized there’s more to a Presidential Motorcade than Secret Service everywhere. The New York Times apparently finally noticed and managed to piece together a story including plenty of quotes to suggest that the practice is a threat to national security. A former Secret Service officer, Dan Emmett, wrote a book about his 21 years working on the Presidential Protective Detail. And he’s heavily quoted in the NY Times story. Among the juicier bits, 

You are face to face with a young person who is just completely full of themselves and enthralled. … We were more concerned with that than an attack on the motorcade.

This comment strikes a particularly personal chord with me because I actually drove in a presidential motorcade once. To Emmett I’m apparently part of the problem.

Much like the stories described in the article I received a message from a friend of mine who worked in the White House asking if I wanted to participate. I quickly said yes and then figured out how to get away with taking a vacation day I probably hadn’t earned yet on such short notice. Fortunately my boss was very understanding so on a rather brisk morning in early November 1999 I was sitting in the “Support” minivan waiting for Air Force One to pull up and unload its passengers.

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My role was actually a bit different from the one described in the NY Times story. Unlike those drivers who were ferrying members of the media around my van was part of the “Secure Package” of vehicles. I was chauffeur to held a secret service agent and a few White House staffers like the photographer.

Like the story told in the NY Times I was instructed to mostly follow the car in front of me but also to not follow too closely and not to swerve like it would. I was following the Counter-Assault Team.

The Counter-Assault Team is more or less the badass crew rolling in the motorcade. These guys are suited up in a manner which resembles a SWAT unit much more than a typical Secret Service escort. And it was made very clear to me that following the CAT truck too closely or swerving too much could result in serious problems for me.

I was also told that if there was an emergency the Secret Service agent in the van might commandeer the vehicle and leave me on the side of the road. Someone would eventually come back and pick me up, he added. Not particularly comforting given how cold it was outside, but

And it turns out that I may have been told all of this by Dan Emmett. I was going through my photos from the event (sorry for the low quality; it was a while ago) and came across one of the CAT guys suiting up. Comparing this to the photos returned in a Google Image search I’m pretty sure it is the same guy.

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I am one of the many “young people” (I was) who was driving while “completely enthralled” (absolutely) and “full of themselves” (I’d like to think not) who Mr. Emmett had the responsibility of protecting the President from. Oops.

So, was I really a danger to President Clinton? I’d like to think not. I kept my distance, didn’t swerve and even managed to drop off all my passengers in the same condition as when they got into the car. And it was an absolutely incredible experience. I don’t know that having the Secret Service driving that van or any other in the motorcade would make a difference. Plus, there’s the part where the Secret Service isn’t tasked with protecting the media.

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But, hey, someone has to sell some books, right?

And I never did get a copy of that photo they took when I shook Clinton’s hand. I’m still a little bitter about that.

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