Last week, I was asked to cover the Wednesday memorial ceremony for the victims of the April 2 shooting. I was selected to represent the Herald as pool reporter in the White House Press Corps, and given to opportunity to cover President Barack Obama’s visit to Fort Hood from touch down to take off.
What follows are some of my notes from that day.
10 a.m.: I arrive at the Clarke Road South gate. There is a small group of reporters and photographers waiting. The drive on 195 was quick and easy — a relief compared with the traffic the previous day, which left some drivers stuck for nearly four hours.
10:30 a.m.: A large white bus pulls into the parking lot.
10:40 a.m.: Through gate on West Fort Hood. It’s my first time seeing this part of the post. At first, I am surprised that there isn’t more security in preparation for the president’s visit, but as we get closer to airfield that changes. We have our identification checked by the Secret Service agents at two check-points before we are off-loaded to Larkin terminal.
10:49 a.m.: Inside the terminal. We show our ID’s again, and are asked to leave all our equipment on the floor for a security check. We are escorted into another room before they check our bags. I see a military police officer with a German shepherd moving towards our belongings. The dog is pulling at the leash. The dog looks very excited about his job in today.
10:50 a.m.: Our bags check out OK, and we are taken to the tarmac. The presidential motorcade is already lined up and waiting. We are taken to a large, flatbed truck that serves as a platform to view the landing. Herald photographer Catrina Rawson points out the snipers on the roof of the terminal behind us. We watch them watching us as we wait for Air Force One.
11 a.m.: We meet with our press liaison for the day. We are told that things will move fast once the plane lands. “If we tell you to move, you need to move,” the liaison says, emphasizing the importance of staying on schedule. “If the Secret Service tells you to move. Move.”
11:30 a.m.: Air Force One lands, engine roaring. We are ushered under one of its massive wings as the traveling press spills out a ramp near the back. We get there just in time to see the president and the first lady make their way down the ramp. Both look very somber as they shake hands with Lt. Gen, Mark Milley, his wife, and Rep. John Carter.
11:35 a.m.: “We need to start moving.” That’s our cue. The gaggle of reporters and photographers in the traveling press corps bolts for three white vans near the back of the waiting motorcade. We are rolling before I can buckle my seat belt.
11:39 a.m.: The president’s motorcade moves quickly along Fort Hood’s roads. I don’t know how fast we are going, but there is no slowing down or stopping. As we get closer to III Corps Headquarters, I see small clusters of people out on the side walk. Some of them wave, others salute.
11:49 a.m.: The motorcade passes by the 49th Transportation Battalion’s headquarters. I realize that we are driving through the area where the shooting occurred. There are flowers outside the building, and cars in the parking lot. It is a stark reminder of just why we are all here, and tempers the excitement of covering a presidential visit.
11:50 a.m.: The motorcade arrives at III Corps headquarters. The Obamas head into the building while we are taken to a media area near the stage. We are told that the president and his wife have set aside a little over two hours to visit with the families of the victims and the wounded.
1 p.m.: Filing stories as we wait for the memorial to begin. The reporters from the traveling press corps watch the delegation of guests and politicians walking in to be seated. One points out that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is among them. It must be unexpected, because there is a flurry of hurried phone calls and text messaging as they speculate on her appearance.
1:10 p.m.: We are told by a Fort Hood PAO that another soldier wounded in the shooting is out of the hospital.
1:15 p.m.: A military band begins to plays as people start to walk out of the III Corps building. They are the families of the victims, as well as the survivors of the shooting. I see one has his arm in a cast. Another is on crutches.
1:37 p.m.: The ceremony begins. The speakers each take their turn at the podium. They praise the bravery of those who were killed, as well as those who were wounded. They promise to support and take care of them and their families. Every single speaker, including the president, can’t help but mention that this isn’t the first time they’ve had to make such speeches. “We’ve been here before,” the president says. It echoes over the loudspeakers to a crowd of 3,000.
2:37 p.m.: The ceremony is ending. We are told to quickly make our way back to the motorcade. Some of the reporters are still typing as the run for the vans.
2:40 p.m.: On our way back to the airfield. The small crowds that were their to greet us earlier are gone. The armed military police and concrete barricades stationed at every cross street and driveway along the route still remain.
2:50 p.m.: Back at their airfield. The president and first lady are already inside the plane by the time we get out of the van. Catrina and I are taken back to the flatbed just in time to watch the plane take off toward a cloudless Texas sky.
3 p.m.: Back on the bus. After the hectic pace of the visit, the calm atmosphere is a little disconcerting.
3:10 p.m.: Back in the parking lot outside the Clarke Road gate. The whole experience flew by so quickly that I have to read over my notes a few to times to convince myself that everything I just went through actually happened.