Saturday, November 17, 2012

Our Brush With The President

Last night, Kevin, Christopher and I went downtown to go to Mass and then out to dinner. Caitlynne was babysitting for one of our neighbors. We usually park at the Embassy and walk across the street to the church. However, since we were a little early, I went into the Commissary to have a look around while Kevin filled the car up at the Embassy gas station. Just as we finished loading my purchases into the car, I noticed a long line of Suburbans and  two limousines coming through the gates of the Embassy. The flashing lights on top of the Suburbans were what caught my eye initially but the fact that the limousines were Cadillacs - which are NEVER seen here in Thailand - made me pay special attention. 

Right then, it started to pour so we jumped in the car to wait out the rain and watched the action unfold. The convoy proceeded to the gas pumps and we noticed the two limos had Washington, DC plates and the Suburbans had Maryland plates. It didn't take much to figure out these were the vehicles being used to transport the President and his security detail during his visit. Unfortunately, other than the Secret Service officers driving the cars, there were no other occupants. I was surprised that the windows were not darkly tinted - we could easily see into the cars. Apparently, the vehicles had arrived in Bangkok earlier in the day on the same plane carrying the press corps and were being fueled prior to picking up the President at the airport. 

Of course, I had to snap a few photos (much to the dismay and embarrassment of my husband and son). The Secret Service agent was very nice - he just asked me not to take any close up photos of the cars. 


While we were sitting and waiting for the rain to stop, we were talking about the President's limo and wondering about its protective features. After we got home, I did a little research on line and found the following "fun" facts...

The Presidential state car is the official car used by the POTUS domestically and internationally. It is a specially commissioned vehicle featuring advanced communications equipment, special convenience features, armor plating, and defense countermeasures. American cars are traditionally chosen for the role and this presidential car is a Chevrolet-manufactured Cadillac limousine. It is often referred to as Cadillac One and occasionally as Limo One (a reference to the U.S. presidential aircraft, Air Force One.The Secret Service refers to the heavily armored vehicle as The Beast.

The official photo of the official car.
 Although the price tag is not known, each limousine is estimated to cost US$300,000. (Yikes!)

Details of the car are classified for security reasons but there is a special night vision system in a secret location on the car and the car is sealed against biochemical attacks. 

Most interestingly, a blood bank of the President's blood type is kept in the trunk. (Gross!)

The car can seat seven people, including the president. There are storage compartments in the interior panels of the car for voice and data communications equipment (the Limousine Control Package) that allow the president to perform command and control functions (run the country) right from the limo. There are five antennas on the car. 

The car is driven by a highly trained Secret Service agent and the President's lead protective agent usually sits in the front passenger seat.

When the President is visiting a foreign country, the limousine and other protective vehicles are all airlifted for international use by a U.S. Air Force C-17. After the President leaves Bangkok, he is visiting Burma and Cambodia so the motorcade must also be transported to those locations and then back to the United States again. I cannot even begin to image the expenses  involved in transporting his motorcade, let alone the cost of the entire trip. My tax dollars at work. 

Unfortunately, the limos are incredibly heavy and at about 8 miles per US gallon, they are not very fuel efficient vehicles. 

When the president travels out of town, his motorcade consists of about 45 vehicles. (I can only imagine the very negative effect his motorcade is going to have on traffic downtown Sunday and Monday.)

So, there you go. All you ever wanted to know about the Presidential car and then some. 

When I was in college in DC, it was not at all unusual to see the Presidential motorcade around town. Many times I even saw the Presidential helicopter transporting the President to/from the White House and Andrews Air Force Base (where Air Force one is based). However, it was so odd (and unexpected) to see the entire Presidential motorcade simply transported to the streets of Bangkok. The logistics involved in planning a Presidential visit to a foreign country must be incredible and obviously include so many things (like transport) that we don't even think about. From what I have seen/heard of the Embassy's preparations (which don't even take into account the planning that has gone on back in Washington), there are so many details that need to be considered and coordinated.  There is no room for a mistake, that is for sure.

Have a great Saturday evening!