While some of us were looking forward to some sleep, the president had other ideas. He called us into the conference room, where he spoke and took questions for about 25 minutes. It is indeed a unique experience to be in such close quarters with the most powerful man in the world in his conference room on a plane that symbolizes both strength and purpose of the country.
Bush was casually dressed, in a gray t-shirt with a blue Air Force One jacket over it, blue nylon sweat pants and navy blue crocs -- or maybe they were fake crocs. The president wearing crocs? Who knew?
The flight to Afghanistan was four and a half hours. It probably would have been shorter but we had to do a hook north and west to go around Iran. I don't suppose the Iran government would approve a request to fly over their airspace. Descending into Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan, we were again flying "dark." No lights on outside (I suspect) and none on inside. This was considered a far more dangerous journey than the one into Iraq.
We arrived at 5:30 a.m. local time (Afghanistan is nine and a half hours ahead of eastern time -- what's with the "half"?) to a cold, gray morning, but the spirits of the 1,000 or so troops who were inside the hangar to hear the president speak were not dampened. Bush got an enthusiastic response to his speech, and then took time to shake hands with some of the troops.
We boarded Chinook helicopters for another hop -- this time to Kabul. As we flew, the pre-dawn gray revealed a rugged landscape as we flew by impressive mountains and high deserts dotted with villages. Small houses appeared to be constructed of mud and clay. It was clear this is a poor country and that it will take years, if not decades, to develop.
Bush went somewhere else.
We arrived at the palace of President Karzai, who welcomed Bush with an honor guard. A chaotic group of White House and local Afghan press headed for Karzai's office for a quick photo op and then waited for their joint press conference. No major news in the press conference, but Bush reaffirmed the importance of the U.S.-Afghan relationship and the ongoing war against extremists.
One Afghan journalist asked Bush a pointed question about the lack of progress being made in Afghanistan, asserting that the Taliban were "laughing" just over the Pakistani border. It seemed to me some progress was being made just by the fact of having a journalist ask a direct, pointed question of a public official.
Later, Bush received a medal from Karzai -- the Ghazi Amir Amanullah Khan insignia for his efforts helping Afghanistan rebuild and fight drugs. More often than not, Bush has been the one giving out a medal and it was unusual watching someone else pin one on him.
We had one final helicopter ride back to Bagram. Bush took photographs with Special Forces members, while reporters filed their final stories. We then boarded Air Force One for the final flight back to Washington, with a stop in the U.K. for refueling. Flight time: 16 hours.
Total elapsed time: 43 hours
Number of meals on the ground: 0
Time in a real bed: 0
Time in a shower: 0
Ratio of time in the air to time on the ground: 2.4
Number of bad "shoe" jokes: countless
ABC News' Senior Foreign Affairs Correspondent Martha Raddatz contributed to this report.