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How Much Goes Into a Presidential Visit?

George Bush's speech -- one of the last of his presidency -- has a lot of people excited at Texas A&M, But just getting Bush 43 to Reed Arena for Friday's evententails quite a bit.

We spoke with someone who knows a thing or two about getting the American president around.

In addition to being one of the nation's leading homeland security experts, retired Air Force Col. Randy Larsen also spent two years as the commander of the VIP fleet, the group that helps the commander-in-chief, among others, get around the world.

"There is no simple movement of the President of the United States," Larsen said. "There have been an extraordinary number of meetings that have taken place with local law enforcement officials and emergency responders. Things have probably been rehearsed on more than one occasion, and advance agents have been down there as much as two weeks in advance."

All for a few hours and one speech.

Weeks ago when the trip was announced, folks at the VIP fleet's hub at Andrews Air Force Base began working on contingency. An office in the Pentagon began coordinating the travel. There's an office of military air support at the White House, too...because there's a lot of air support needed.

"Two 747s, [including] the one carrying the president," Larsen explained. "The other 747, the backup, will be somewhere close by that it could respond. There will be several large cargo airplanes carrying in the limos, and carrying the helicopters. There could be as many as 10 airplanes supporting their trip."

There will be a few choppers in the skies, including a gunship you probably shouldn't mess with, and a couple of look-alikes. One is Marine One because the president's on board. The other's a decoy.

"Once they take off, they do this little shuttle-around thing," Larsen said. "A minute or so after takeoff from the ground, you can't really tell."

All of it is your tax dollars at work. While Col. Larsen couldn't guess the cost of this particular trip, he could say the costliest trip during his command: Bill Clinton's 11-day trip to six African nations in 1998.

"That was in excess of $100 million, all the airplanes, the support equipment, the helicopters, the people," he said. "That was just the airlift bill on the trip.

"A lof of it is about making sure the president always has all the communications that he needs to talk to military commanders, other political leaders, or the American public if he needed to."

In fact, before September 11, the president couldn't speak to the country from aboard Air Force One. Now, he is able to if necessary.

Larsen is also the cohost of KAMU Radio's "Homeland Security: Inside and Out." For more information on that show, click on the link below."


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