At about 7 p.m., I arrived at a darkened gate at Andrews Air Force Base. After showing my press pass, I continued on to a parked SUV surrounded by several security agents.
There, I was asked to give over anything electronic -- which for me meant my entire backpack. No communications devices were allowed, since it might give away an inkling of our secret trip. I had already been allowed to tell only my wife, and only about the trip to Iraq. I was not allowed to mention the subsequent stops in Afghanistan.
Feeling naked without a phone or blackberry -- but at the same time blissfully aware that no one could contact me to ask me any questions or do anything -- we gathered in a parking lot, went through security checks and proceeded to the hangar.
Inside the hangar, Air Force One -- looking immense and more imposing than when parked out on the tarmac -- gleamed under the hangar lights. It was so spotless I could see my reflection in the aluminum as I walked alongside the fuselage.
We were a group of four: ABC's Senior Foreign Affairs Correspondent Martha Raddatz, ace camerawoman Melissa Young, expert sound technician Steve Joya and myself as producer.
Representing the only television journalists on the trip, we were responsible for reporting editorial information and distributing videotape to all the U.S. television networks.
We boarded, found our seats, and settled in for what we knew would be a long 48 hours. The president arrived at Andrews Air Force Base at about 9 p.m. and stopped by the press cabin, jokingly commenting "what a weak group." He was relaxed, wearing a black baseball cap with "43" on it (representing his term as the 43rd president of the U.S.).
At about 9:20 p.m., the aircraft began moving out of the hangar. Because we were flying "dark," the shades were required to be shut. We took off at about 9:30 p.m. on our way to Baghdad. One briefing, two meals and several bad movies later, we landed in Baghdad, marking Bush's fourth and final trip to the country of his presidency.
It was about 4:00 p.m. when we landed at Baghdad airport, where Bush was met by Amb. Ryan Crocker and Gen. Raymond Odierno. We quickly got on board a Chinook helicopter to fly to the residence palace of Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, flying low and fast across Baghdad. We originally thought we would be going to the International Zone -- commonly known as the Green Zone -- but instead, we were headed to Talabani's palace, which is in the so-called "Red Zone." This would be Bush's first time in Iraq when he wasn't on a military base or in the Green Zone, a sign of how much progress has been made in the security arena.
There was a welcoming ceremony with an honor guard, and a band played the American national anthem, (I believe this is the first time any such ceremony has taken place). The president met with Talabani and we covered a couple of photo ops, following the crush of Iraqi press around, never really knowing which room you are supposed to go to next, not wanting to carry all your gear around any more than you have to, but also not wanting to miss any video opportunities.
During the presidents' meeting, we remained in a holding room, filing stories, trying to work out logistics on the ground, such as getting tapes out to our Baghdad bureau, which we couldn't warn ahead of time, for security reasons. Presidential trips are complicated because of security considerations.