Friday, June 24, 2011

Event Planning for the President

Recently, someone called me an "Events Expert" at work because of a recent project I supported where I had to plan events. But I'm not an expert, that's not even what I typically do at my job, and the only reason I knew anything about it at all was because I got experience years ago with the Advance Team for President Bush.

The Advance Team basically manages events, coordinating everything from what the stage looks like to where to put the media to a whole slew of details you'd never think was someone's job to do, and they work with the Secret Service, Air Force One, etc. Once again, I'm not entirely sure how I got the privelege of being a small part of this team but like so many other things in my life -- it started with a boy I was seeing. And once again, my participation included less-than-graceful moments.

The Team has very few permanent members with a host of others, like myself, who just do events occasionally when they can. My first event ended up being in Anchorage, AK at a military base. And of course, I arrive all wide-eyed and naive, not knowing anything.

And at the first meeting the Team has, one of the guys from the Counter Assault Team (CAT) asked who the New Girl was. AKA the Baby Snow Ox. The one who doesn't know how to defend herself. And the next thing I know, the leader of the Secret Service team is pulling me aside to tell me to "NEVER DATE ONE OF US."

Ah. So there's more to learn about these events than just Where To Put The Flags. Duly noted.

And the rest of that week, we scurry around setting everything up and catching a little downtime in Anchorage. And it's bad form to announce to people that the President is on his way and you work for him. So when a local asked one of the Team what he did, I hear him say that he "worked in Real Estate."

Lesson two: try to avoid that question all together since I try not to lie and even if I did, I would definitely fumble around and blurt out something like "I fold blimps! I'm a blimp folder! That's what my career is! I promise!"

So I'm bonding with the different members of the Team, even the CAT guy that was sniffing around about me on the first day. And when Game Day arrives (the day the President arrives for the actual event) I'm taken aback to see everyone in their Big Boy Clothes. These guys that I've been hanging out with for a week are now dressed in black, wearing guns, and frowning. And I accidentally cross paths with my CAT guy in a back hallway and he is SO SCARY with a giant anti-something or other weapon strapped to him and he looks serious. I start to feel wide-eyed again...

And I walk up to the guy who's been training me and he goes "You aren't going to freak out on me are you? Because I had a girl freak out on me on Game Day and I made her go sit in a corner."

No sir. I'm so not going to freak out. That is SO not in MY nature - OH! MY! GOSH! I totally forgot to place a sign right where the President is about to come in - a sign that tells him where to go.

So I scramble to get that fixed, and kind of step back to just relax for a second and I turn - And there stands The President. He's just - right there. He's already here. I'm standing by him.

And I instantly feel like I shouldn't be. Like, there are other people who Know What They Are Doing - THEY should be near him, not me. So I scurry through the crowd to attend to other duties.

And besides a cell phone strapped to me, I also have an EAR PIECE. Like, the cool Secret Service looking Ear Pieces. With a wire that runs down to my jacket cuff so I get to talk into my wrist and say things like "Go for Dana, we're at Alpha" I. Am. Excited about this.

But then it becomes a job. Because I'm scanning the crowd, responding to people in my ear, taking calls, and at one point I'm literally herding a group of inner-city school children THROUGH the crowd, UNDER a fence-like thing to get to the back of the stage because - Hey! We just decided Mrs. Bush should meet them! Right now! Behind the stage! Can you do that Dana?!

So my delusions of grandeur desolve as I'm climbing under a barrier in my suit and heels, and motioning for a train of adolescents to follow. Yep. Very professional.

THEN, I get a call that someone wants to give the President a gift and that I need to come outside (and did I mention we are in Alaska? And there's snow and ice on the ground? And I'm in heels?)

So now I'm pushing through the crowd, answering calls on my ear piece, answering calls on my cell phone, trying not to slip and fall, waving a friendly hello to my now-scary Sniper friend on the roof, and I finally get to this Gift Man. And you know what he wants me to give to the President?

A Knife.

And now I feel like I'm being punked. Seriously sir?! You bring a knife to give to the President? Not a security hazard at all. Good thing I wasn't already frazzled!

In the end, everything worked out and I went on to do some other events for the President and First Lady, including one at the Pentagon where I saw the head of my Team frantically turn down a hallway - and ram right into the Vice President.

I told him to go sit in a corner.

Ha! No I didn't. But all in all, I think my first event went pretty well because at least THAT didn't happen to me.

And I've never dated a Secret Service agent since, either. :)

(The current White House team did a video HERE if you want to see more on what the Advance Team does)


  1. "Go for Dana, we're at Alpha" I. Am. Excited about this."

    This part made me literally laugh out loud and I rarely do that at anything in print.

    I'm a huge geek in watching anything at all that has to do with the WH or the presidency. I would absolutely have loved every second of working that capacity. - Jason

  2. Thank you! I'm glad people enjoyed this. Being able to do Advance has been one of my favorite blessings, I'm very thankful I somehow got to be a part of that.