It all started out with a phone call from Reuters News Pictures Washington Editor In Charge Jim Bourg on Thursday night informing me there was a secret Presidential trip leaving on Saturday to an undisclosed destination which Reuters would like me to travel with the president on. I was told that this was very secretive and that I was not to mention it to anyone and that no details were available yet. I had been with President Obama on his secret trip to Baghdad last year, so it was pretty easy to figure out that the destination this time might be Afghanistan, a trip which had been highly anticipated since Obama became president 15 months ago. I was to expect to be contacted directly by the White House for a meeting to discuss the details. But I was to “open” the White House as the first Reuters photographer arriving there on Friday morning at 7am, my scheduled shift, and to go about my day as planned acting as if everything was normal. Nothing could be further from the truth.
That afternoon I was called in to meet with Press Secretary Robert Gibbs in his office at 4pm, along with some of the other members of the 14 person media travel pool who would be going on the secret trip aboard Air Force One.
We were given a schedule of events and were sworn to secrecy. I headed home to pack and test out the BGAN satellite phone I had been provided by Reuters for the trip.
On Saturday night, I met up with the 2 other wire service photographers who were in the travel pool at a gate at Andrews Air Force Base at 7pm, an hour before our call time. But after sitting in the cars for an hour outside the Air Force base gate, and when no one else showed up, we figured that we better make a protective phone call to the White House staff. It seemed we were a half-mile from the correct entry point to the base. Whoops! The details we had been given were a little too secretive even for us!
Our names were checked off a list at the gate and we drove into a parking lot. We unloaded all of our gear and it was all turned over to the U.S. Secret Service. All electronics, cameras, and blackberries were to be loaded on to the plane by them and we would get not them back until we were in flight.