EDITOR'S NOTE: Scott Jensen is an Escanaba native and Northern Michigan University student. He had the opportunity Thursday to drive in President Barack Obama's motorcade when he visited Marquette. Here is his account.
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MARQUETTE - On Monday morning, Feb. 7, I received a phone call, from my boss, just before my 12 p.m. class asking me if I could skip all of my classes on Thursday to be in the Presidential motorcade. I thought for a moment wondering what the heck is a motorcade? And then I realized that I would be one of the vehicles we always see on television following the president down the public streets. I said that I would love for the opportunity and that he could send my information on to Anne Stark, the Northern Michigan University marketing manager, in the Communication and Marketing office. I turned all of my information in to her later that day and got a call on Tuesday afternoon saying I must attend a meeting on Wednesday to be briefed.
Wednesday's meeting was at the Holiday Inn in Marquette and went over protocol for the following day when the President of the United States would be arriving to Marquette, Mich. Tim Sneed, part of the president's staff, was supervising the 12 volunteer drivers for the event and what was special was that I was the only student at NMU to be selected to drive in the motorcade.
Thursday morning I woke up at 6:30 a.m. ready for my day to begin. It was finally occurring to me that I was going to be closer to the president than anyone else for most of the day. At 7:30 a.m. all of the drivers for the motorcade met at the Holiday Inn to go over last minute things and to pick up the rented vehicles from local car rental stores. We departed for K.I. Sawyer International Airport at 8:30 a.m. to arrive at 9 a.m. Everything needed to be perfected to the very minute. At 9:30 a.m. we were once again briefed on all of the procedures to go over if we were to encounter the president, as well as any other persons of special interest. We were searched and "magged," metal detected with the wand, then returned to our vehicles.
Air Force One landed at exactly 11:45 a.m. and the president stepped off at 12 p.m. where he was greet by a storm of media from local outlets as well as those from Washington, D.C., that made the trip on Air Force One. I took plenty of pictures from the time the plan landed all the way to the time our passengers arrived.
My partner, Steve Savola, and I had a special "off the record" job. We were driving Sen. Carl Levin from the airport to Vandament Arena on the campus of NMU. Our job, though, required us to break off from the motorcade when we arrived to Marquette and head straight to Vandament.
The president and the remaining vehicles were going downtown Marquette to Doncker's Candy Store. Nobody in our group of volunteers knew that we were breaking off from the motorcade and neither did the armed vehicle behind us because they followed us down Lakeshore Drive before realizing we weren't going to the same place as the president.
We had a state trooper from Gladstone lead us through town and to the designated drop off point for Senator Levin. We arrived at 12:30 p.m., I got to take a picture the senator before saying goodbye because he wouldn't be riding back to the airport with us.
I have to say, Senator Levin is one pleasure to have on a road trip. He cracked jokes and talked about different moments in history with us and was a joy to have in our car.
After dropping off the senator we had to wait for the arrival of the president and the motorcade so we could be reunited. At 12:45 p.m. the motorcade arrived and all of the vehicles were inside lot 57 behind the Berry Event Center. Everyone got settled in and the drivers and I were invited to go inside. We waited in the corridor between the Vandament and the Izzo-Mariucci room to greet the president. He walked through the doorway and my heart just stopped.
We had practiced where we were lining up before he came for our picture but all of that was forgotten once President Obama showed up. He came up to our group of volunteers and said, 'Are these my drivers?' And then he proceeded down the line as we each introduced ourselves and he greeted each one of us with a handshake and called us by name. We then lined up for our group photo and we scrambled into our positions. President Obama asked for some more people on his left and we all scurried as photos were being taken. One of them shows us scrambling and the president pointing fingers and directing us where to go. It was quite hysterical!
Our day was not quite over yet, we went back to our vehicles and listened to the speech on the radio and sat in amazement that we had just met the president. At 2:05 p.m. his speech concluded and at 2:15 p.m. we were back on the road to the airport. The president boarded Air Force One at 2:45 p.m. and the wheels were up at 3:00 p.m. just like planned. It was a perfect day and one that I will remember forever.
We drove back to the Holiday Inn and returned keys and vehicles to the local car rental stores and thanked Tim Sneed for this opportunity to drive in the motorcade and said our goodbyes to each other and went on our way. I had one class left that afternoon and a paper to turn in so I decided I better hurry up and return to campus and turn in my assignment.
I might have been in class but sitting there in my shirt and tie I still couldn't get over the days events and sat there with the biggest grin on my face the rest of the day.