Friday, November 18, 2011

Decision Points: Thanksgiving Surprise

I really enjoyed listening to President Bush's book, Decision Points, which I finished a few weeks ago.

I have found it fascinating to hear another side of news stories that I lived and heard the "news" version of the stories and the information open to the public.

My favorite part of the book was when President Bush shared the story about his going to visit the troops in Baghdad for Thanksgiving 2003.  Baghdad was a war zone and President Bush made the trip with only a few people knowing... only a few people in the world knew he was making this trip.  He told his wife, Mrs. Bush, a few weeks beforehand, and his daughters 30 minutes before he left.

The plan was if ANY information about the trip leaked, they would abort the trip.

I found two youtube clips about the trip:

Part 1

Part 2

What I WANTED to find was a video of the surprise as President Bush appeared to the troops, but I will have to settle for sharing the dialogue from the book.  Enjoy President's Bush account of the arrival, visit and departure in Baghdad, Thanksgiving 2003 as written in Decision Points, pp. 265-266:


With the sun dropping on the horizon, I could make out the minarets of the Baghdad skyline.  The city seemed so serene from above.  But we were concerned about surface-to-air missles on the ground.  While Joe Hagin assured us the military had cleared a wide perimeter around Baghdad International Airport, the mood aboard the plane was anxious.  As we descended in a corkscrew pattern with the shades drawn, some staffers joined together in a prayer session.  At the last moment, Colonel Tillman leveled out the place and kissed the runway, no sweat.
Waiting for me at the airport were Jerry Bremer and General Ricardo Sanchez, the senior ground commander in Iraq.  "Welcome to a free Iraq," Jerry said.

We went to the mess hall, where six hundred troops had gathered for a Thanksgiving mean.  Jerry was supposed to be the guest of honor.  He told the troops he had a holiday message from the president.  "Let's see if we've got anybody more senior here...," he said.

That was my cue.  I walked out from behind a curtain and onto the stage of the packed hall.  Many of the stunned troops hesitated for a split second, then let out deafening whoops and hooahs.  Some had tears running down their faces.  I was swept up by the emotion.  These were the souls who just eight months earlier had liberated Iraq on my orders.  Many had seen combat.  Some had seen friends perish.  I took a deep breath and said, "I bring a message on behalf of America.  We thank you for your service, we're proud of you, and America stands solidly behind you."

After the speech, I had dinner with the troops and moved to a side room to meet with four members of the Governing Council, the mayor of Baghdad, and members of the city council.  One woman, the director of a maternity hospital, told me how women had more opportunities now than they had ever dreamed about under Saddam (Hussien).  I knew Iraq still faced big problems, but the trip reinforced my faith that they could be overcome.

The most dangerous part left was the takeoff from Baghdad.  We were told to keep all lights out and maintain total telephone silence until we hit ten thousand feet.  I was still on an emotional high.  But the exhilaration of the moment was replaced by an eerie feeling of uncertainty as we blasted off the ground and climbed silently through the night.

After a few tense minutes, we reached a safe altitude.  I called one of the operators on the plane and asked him to connect me with Laura.  "Where are you?" she asked.  "I am on the way home," I said.  "Tell the girls all is well."

She sounded relieved.  It turns out she'd had a little mix-up with the timing.  She couldn't remember whether I said I would be in the air at 10:00 a.m. or noon.  At 10:15, she had called a Secret Service agent at the ranch and asked if he had heard from President Bush.  "Let me check," the agent said.

A few seconds passed.  "Yes, ma'am," he replied.  "The are ninety minutes away."

She realized he was talking about Mother and Dad, who were on their way to spend Thanksgiving with us.  "No, I mean my George," she said.  The agent paused.  "Well, ma'am," he said, "we show he is in the ranch house."

Secrecy was so tight that the agents on the ranch were still unaware that I had slipped away for the most thrilling trip of my presidency.


Leading into this week before Thanksgiving, I am so grateful for those who protect our country near and far, especially when it means sacrificing holidays with their families.  I am also thankful for those who lead them.

What a Thanksgiving gift!

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