Power up close: The president arrives on Air Force One

Rebecca ponders the story she'll be writing.

With Air Force One as a backdrop, Rebecca ponders the story she’ll be writing.

Editor’s note: Rebecca Brandel, a 15-year-old Live! Starring … You! reporter from our home school, Mount St. Mary Academy in Kenmore, New York, was credentialed by the White House to cover President Barack Obama’s Aug. 22 arrival in Buffalo on Air Force One. Following is her account of the experience:

Let’s start off by setting the scene.

Thirty or so reporters wander around a sectioned-off area near the airport tarmac. They are setting up and testing their cameras. The majority have large cups of coffee in their hands, which some are balancing on one knee while hurriedly typing away at laptops and smartphones.

With Tim O’Shei, my journalism teacher and Live! Starring … You! founder, I am one of these reporters waiting for the arrival of Air Force One and President Barack Obama.

Air Force One is by far the most recognizable symbols and perks of the presidency. The plane is 4,000 square feet and is equipped with three levels, an office, a conference room, and even a medical suite.

Rebecca is interviewed by Jenny Modin, reporter for the Swedish national newspaper Expressen.

Rebecca is interviewed by Jenny Modin, reporter for the Swedish national newspaper Expressen.

While we wait, Secret Service agents meander around.

Seeing the Secret Service agents up close is an interesting experience in itself. They dress in dark suits, with the official Secret Service seal pinned on their jackets. Each of them is wearing a clear earpiece, and occasionally speak into their radio.

We encountered quite a few of them during our journey! They checked us when we first arrived, (so did some bomb-sniffing dogs!) and were everywhere during the course of the morning.

The only scenery is a vacant airport runway, save for a few trucks.

But something makes this day extra extraordinary. (Besides the shiny black armored bus with the presidential seal parked behind us, and the sharpshooters noticeably present on the roofs of all the nearby buildings.)

Next to the media area on the lot, the family and friends section quickly fills full of excited onlookers taking pictures of just about everything and everyone. That included Congressman Brian Higgins and the local mayor, Byron Brown of Buffalo. The mayor and congressman went around and greeted the crowd, shaking hands.

It’s 9:45 a.m. The president was due in less than 45 minutes. As the president’s arrival gets closer, the number of Secret Service agents grows. Some stand around the media and family and friends area, arms crossed, eyes scanning the crowd, while others pace around and check their cell phones.

Time ticks away and the President’s arrival is rapidly approaching. The other reporters start talking animatedly into their respective cameras, trying to give their viewers a feel for the atmosphere.

Tim O’Shei and I were approached during this time by Jenny Modin, a reporter for a Swedish newspaper, Expressen. She was in New York for a month-long assignment and was sent here to cover the Air Force One landing – and she wanted to interview us.

President Obama on the ground in Buffalo.

President Obama on the ground in Buffalo.

She took lots of notes and inquired about what organization I report for and what other kinds of reporting I have done.

After she finishes with us, she immediately sits down and begins typing away on her laptop.

I tried to check out her website later on, but I couldn’t read a word of it!

Suddenly we overhear the on-camera reporters excitedly telling their audience they have received word that the President is just five minutes away from landing!

By now New York Governor Andrew Cuomo arrives with his three daughters. With the mayor and congressman, the governor takes a few steps closer to the runway where Air Force One will soon be. A truck carrying the set of stairs that the president will use to exit the plane is nearby.

Then a hush falls over the crowd as the plane rolls into view.

Air Force One, in all its glory, is 231 feet long and is emblazoned the presidential seal and the words “United States Of America.”

A back door of the plane opens and various people file out in single file, dressed in business clothes. Everyone in the crowd and all the media poise their cameras.

Then for the main event.

The main doors on the airplane swing open and our President appears.

Rebecca Brandel's White House press credential for Live! Starring ... You!

Rebecca Brandel’s White House press credential for Live! Starring … You!

The small family and friends crowd all collectively gasp, and one shout heard very clearly says “OH MY GOD! THERE HE IS!”

I was completely starstruck, I couldn’t believe that the head of our country was standing so close.

All of the reporters in the media section seemed indifferent, snapping pictures, and talking into their mics. In the family and friends section though there was such a sense of excitement! All of the cameras then started to go off at once and a few people begin to clap.

Ron Plants, a reporter for WGRZ-TV, Buffalo’s NBC affiliate, later told me, “It was a stirring sight to see that particular plane carrying our nation’s chief executive actually touch down at our airport. It’s an amazing symbol of our country and there it is right in front of us. And then to actually see President Obama emerge from the plane is something you don’t forget as a local journalist. It was an exciting day and I was thrilled to be part of it for (WGRZ).”

Once President Obama reaches the parking lot, he immediately greets the governor and congressman with bro hugs and the mayor with a lengthy handshake, then proceeds to take a picture with the governor and his daughters.

Rebecca filled more than a dozen pages in her reporter notebook with observations and quotes.

Rebecca filled more than a dozen pages in her reporter notebook with observations and quotes.

The president then heads over to the family and friends section of the lot and begins to shake hands. It’s smiles all around has he greets as many people as he can.

Everyone is very hushed, not sure what exactly to say, until one brave soul calls out, “Hello!” The President laughed and waved to everyone, greeting us all.

At this point we were no more than fifteen feet away from him!

Parents shove the smaller children to the front in hopes of them getting a handshake from the President himself.

All the while, an armored Suburban stays as close to the president as possible, the door closest to him being diligently held open by a Secret Service officer. Anytime the president takes a step, the suburban inches a little forward.

That's President Obama descending the steps.

That’s President Obama descending the steps.

After greeting everyone possible, Obama waves goodbye and heads onto his ornate bus.

The total time with the president lasts about five minutes, and the crowd sends him off with waves and clapping.

Then comes the motorcade: 32 vehicles and two buses, including the presidential bus.

No one is allowed to leave until the president is off the premises, and while we wait, reporters interview people who were able to shake Obama’s hand. At the same time, I observe the sharp shooters exiting from their position on the roof.

“Seeing the president and Air Force One up close is an incredible experience,” says Tim O’Shei. “But even more incredible is covering it as a journalist and making your readers feel as if they are were there.”

We board a shuttle filled with reporters who are already working on their articles. We ended up where we first entered the runway, getting back to the parking lot. We see hoards of families with little kids standing on the sidewalks outside of their homes, hoping to catch a glimpse of Air Force One or the presidential motorcade. The traffic is insane due to the blocked-off streets and people pulled to the side of the road.

The traffic is insane due to the amount of people that parked along the streets at vantage points trying to catch a glimpse of the plane!

This was an experience I will hold with me for a lifetime, but I’m not going to stop at simply watching the president exit an airplane. Someday I’d like to interview him!

God Bless America!

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