A product of Noted Now and The Note
After the pool boarded Air Force One, following the President, it was observed that the Secret Service had not boarded, and we were told that the plane was "waiting."
It eventually was learned that we were waiting for the arrival of a "World" airlines charter MD-11 carrying 292 Guardsmen and reservists for duty in Iraq.
The plane departed from Ft. Bragg with the 30th Brigade Combat team, a guard unit from North Carolina, the 414th Transportation Battalion reserve unit from South Carolina, and the 230th Area Support Group, a guard unit from Tennessee. There seemed to be a few other units as well, such as the 150th armored cavalry, a guard unit from West Virginia. They are heading to Germany and then to Kuwait, for 18-24 months duty in Iraq.
They were obviously excited to see the President, and a few confessed to being down when they had to say goodbye to their families, but they said they were boosted by the President's appearance. They were reluctant to talk about the mission in Iraq, appearing stoic about that. They were all wearing desert fatigues and filled virtually every seat on the 3-engine plane. The officers were seated in business class.
The soldiers mostly had cameras ready to take snapshots of Bush. Several requested autographs. They called out phrases such as "this is awesome."
The President put a tie and suit jacket on after the rally and walked down one aisle and back up the other, offering gentle smiles and words such as "I'm proud of you" and "thank you." Pool was not close enough to hear any more than that.
As he got to the rear of the plane, Sgt. Wanda Dabbs, 22, of the 230th, called out, "That's my President, hooah!" and there were cheers. At the end of the handshakes on the packed, hot plane, Bush got on the PA system from the middle galley. "I appreciate being President to such fine men and women. May God bless you all. May God keep you safe." POTUS walked in front of the limo the few hundred yards between the two planes.
Brief interviews with a few of the troops:
Sgt. Wanda Dabbs, 230th: On President: "This is very exciting." On the mission: "I'm ready. I'm ready to go 'til the mission is done."
Sgt. Shelly Bivens, 230th, Enthusiastic about mission? "I'm excited to serve our country."
Master Sgt. Johnny Scott, 230th, a postal worker: "It's unusual, very unusual. It's pretty cool, a good morale boost."
Sgt. 1st class Bill Freeman, 230th, a steelworker union member with Goodyear tire in Tennessee: "I think he's the best President of my lifetime? I can guarantee you right now this is the best thing that ever happened to me in my lifetime."
Specialist Brian Parker, 230th: "We were down when we left our families," he said, giving a thumbs down. "But then we heard Air Force One was here. It's a good morale boost."
Sgt. 1st class Bobby Dailey, 150th, a Fedex worker: Good spirits? "We are now. It's a nice surprise. It ain't every day you land somewhere and the President gets on your plane." Asked if he was a Bush supporter, he said, "We're commander-in-chief supporters."
Spec. Sgt. David Spence, 230th, 54, on the election: "I'm still balancing the issues. I'm not sure. I'd like to hear what he (Bush) has to say." A machinist, has one daughter.
Specialist E4 Eddie Latham: "I can't believe it's him." 35, factory worker. "I think he's a great leader, but I'm nervous to go to Iraq." Will still vote for Bush.
2nd Lt. Roxana Pagan-Sanchez. 30th brigade, 30 yrs, 12 year old son: Bush said he was proud of her. Works at urgent care clinic in Raleigh, army environmental scientist. Voting for Bush. "He told me he's proud of me. I'm so proud of him."
Bush aides knew the plane was on its way here and due to arrive about 5 minutes after AF1 left. "They pushed the gas pedal a little bit," Card said, and AF1 waited. Card said after Bush finished the Bangor rally speech they got word that the logistics would work and Bush gave permission to wait.
The plane's pilot, Mikkel "Mike" Hansen, said that they got word from the World Airways HQ that they were attempting to hook up with AF1 in Bangor. "We pushed it about 50 or 60 knots," Hansen said. The Los Angeles based pilot added that they received further instructions from the control tower as well as directly from AF1. "You don't get that every day." Gary Goodpastor, another pilot called a "check captain" because he monitors other pilots, said it was a "thrill."
All the soldiers had been given absentee ballots in the day or two before they departed. Many still had the ballots with them.