Sleep is overrated.
On Wednesday, I was up at 5:30am so I could start my White House shift. U.S. President Barack Obama had 5 press events on his schedule for the day, so I ended up staying until 7pm. I had just sat down to dinner at 8.30pm, when I heard my cell phone ringing, it was Washington Editor-In-Charge Jim Bourg calling about breaking coverage for an Obama event but it was being kept very quiet. The President was planning to fly to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware and take part in the dignified transfer and return of 18 U.S. personnel who died Monday in Afghanistan, so I had to be back at the White House by 10pm. The event would be covered the White House travel pool, a very small group of photographers and reporters who always travel with the President, but what we would be allowed to cover was unclear..
The pool left the White House at 10:45pm for a short drive to Fort McNair military base to board 2 U.S. Marines’ helicopters for the 40 minute flight to Dover. The president would depart separately from the South Lawn on Marine One and we would meet at the Air Base in Dover. The details of Obama’s trip would not be released until the official pool report is released in an email as he departs on the helicopter..
We arrive a couple of minutes before Obama and we are told that we can only photograph the President’s arrival on Marine One, but is was unclear whether we were going to see any of the soldiers return. We were taken to a holding room and given a military briefing on how the event would take place. Even though 18 soldiers and DEA agents were returning to the U.S., the press would only cover the dignified transfer of U.S. Army Sgt. Dale R. Griffin of Terre Haute, Indiana, as per family member’s wishes, and witnessed by Obama. Obama would be meeting with the family members and taking part in the return of the other 17 personnel over the next 3 hours. There is no press coverage..
We waited on a bus for the signal that we could drive out onto the tarmac and at 3:50 am we head out to the C-17 military transport plane and it is very, very dark. The event takes about 10 minutes but the actual transfer from the plane to the truck is over in seconds. Obama walks off the tarmac and we are rushed back on our helicopter for the flight back to Washington.
A very quiet and solemn event, but with all dignity and respect for a soldier who lost his life.
I start filing while still on the tarmac and I manage to get 4-5 pix filed to our pictures desk in Singapore by the time we take off. We can still get an aircard signal on the flight back, but it fades in and out, and sometimes it’s very weak. We return back to Fort McNair and board our vans for the ride back to the White House. I finish up my filing at the press room and wrap up at 6am, 23 hrs after my day had started. The sky is starting to lighten and someone else will be comingto the White House within the hour to start the morning shift, so it’s time to go home and get some sleep..