IAmA former Marine One Crew Chief. I flew both President Obama and President Bush. AMA
I served in the Marine Corps from 2004 to 2010. I was a Marine One Crew Chief for 1 year and three months. I will answer any reasonable questions but keep in mind I cannot divulge classified info. AMA
Edit: In response to frequent requests for proof here are pics and what not for those who do not wish to sift through the comments. Pic of me when I posted this IAmA:http://i.imgur.com/xsH90.jpg Pic of me 2 1/2 years ago:http://i.imgur.com/3v5Qb.jpg Pic of me Bush's last flight:http://i.imgur.com/khhnh.jpg Pic of on my last lift:http://i.imgur.com/02YwU.jpg Pic of my Presidential Service Badge:http://i.imgur.com/CiyaR.jpg
EDIT: Sorry if responses are slow, I honestly was not expecting this mass volume of questions. I will try to answer all your questions though just please be patient.
President Bush: Thank you for your service, what are you planning to do with your life? Me: After the corps I plan to attend college and eventually teach high school Mr. President. President Bush: That's good, thank you, we need all the teach we can get.
And did you?
I'm in college right now working towards that..
I knew an FBI agent that was in the WFO and he told me that there are 5-7 helicopters of the same model and when they leave to and from Andrews they all fly in different directions so any would be potential threats wouldn't know which one was carrying the President.
I would really like to but I cannot tell you about this one man...sorry classified info by the way congrats, you're the first person to ask a question I could not answer....
I very much enjoyed reading your posts, thank you for your time.
Glad I could give it you
I've always imagined secret service agents to be cool customers - straight down the line professionals. What is your opinion on them?
Any cool secret service stories?
That is pretty much the exact definition of what they are. When the president is around they are balls to the wall serious and professional and they won't hesitate to push you out of the way if they feel you're in the way. I hold them in the highest regard.
My girlfriend also served in my squadron and we were on a trip in Texas with President Bush. She was lying down on the tarmac taking some pretty badass photographs of me and the helicopters just before the lift when a service agent walked up behind her and said "Maybe it isn't a good idea to lay in a prone shooting position when you have trained snipers on you." At that point she stood up and apologized to the agent who then said "it's not a problem as long you don't do it again."
My girlfriend also served in my squadron
Did you serve together and then hook up? Or somehow get your gf transferred to your team?
We went through school together early in our military training in 04'. We were great friends then and by sheer luck happened to get orders to the same squadron. We didn't make the decision to start dating until our last year in the corps. But we've been together ever since.
What types of hand to hand combat training did you receive? And were you expected to take a bullet for the president?
Marine Corps Martial Arts Program: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marine_Corps_Martial_Arts_Program
I read this as: "I blew both President Obama and President Bush."
I read that as "Freudian slip"
I was given the opportunity to fly President Bush for his last flight on the day of President Obama's inauguration. It was by far the most publicized and nerve-racking lift I ever did. It was incredible though, to be there on a historic day and fly over the national mall was an amazing experience.
What was Bush's mood on that trip?
It was short and I didn't get the chance to speak with him. But from what I could see on his face he seemed relieved but sad at the same time.
so what happened? you flew him to Andrews, and then he walks out the front gate a civilian?
After that he got on another plane and flew to Waco, TX to go home and do whatever he wanted to...
I see on TV that whenever the president boards the helicopter, the pilot looks at him all the way to the stairs. I see it every time there is a pic or footage of the pres boarding the copter, the pilot looks at him. Why is that, what's the reasoning behind that protocol? Is he just trying to make sure everything is alright?
Actually all that is is the co-pilot trying to get as much face time on the TV camera as possible...
I have read that Air Force One has a number of defensive mechanisms in place (flares, etc) most of which are top secret. Obviously, it wouldn't be smart to divulge too much information, but do the Marine One vehicles defenses go above and beyond what a typical craft would have and were you made aware of all of its capabilities.
I wouldn't want you to get in trouble over an AMA, so a 'safe' answer is completely understandable.
I was fully aware of all of Marine One's defensive capabilities because part of my job was inspecting and maintaining them. The information is highly classified but I can tell you that similar equipment can be found on other military and DOD aircraft and it works very well.
Confirmed: Air force one has a warp speed accelerator.
and a flux capacitor
What are they both like? Any good stories on either Obama or Bush?
Bush was a very friendly person. He has a firm handshake and kinda gives you an old friend feel. He was very quirky though. His favorite gum was classic pink extra and on his last flight I gave him 3 giant packages of it. He joked with us a lot and always invited us to exercise with him or help him on his ranch in Texas.
Obama was more....professional i guess you could say. In some ways he seemed rude but I understood he is an extremely busy person, especially at the beginning of his term. He did give me a "cold fish" hand shake though when I last flew with him. But talking to him one on one he is a very cool guy. I only flew President Obama maybe 10 times as opposed to Bush I flew almost over 50 times so unfortunately I never got a chance for any cool stories with him.
He was, we used to help him clear brush to build biking trails on his ranch.
Wait, so that clearing brush crap was true? Poor guy, all this time I thought it was just a metaphore for going home and getting hammered out his brain but he actually was trying to clear his whole ranch of brush?
just parts of it to make bike trails around the ranch.
Have you ever been in any emergency situations with the President on board?
Did you work with a pilot friend of mine? Callsign Shaft? He started at HMX-1 early '07 or so.
Was he a 46 or a 53 pilot? I may have but the callsign doesn't ring a bell. What was his last name and rank?
53, transferred from K-Bay. Maj. Garrison.
I literally just got off the phone with the ODO at HMX asking about shaft. Maj Garrison was a fucking awesome dude. By far one of the best pilots I ever flew with. If you talk to him soon tell him Sgt. Kish says hello and to e-mail him.
Will do! I went to high school with "Maj. Garrison" and we've been good friends since. He's a stand-up guy. That wiry little Gyrene fireman carried my ass a mile when I got too drunk at an Ole Miss game back in the day. I see you are in Kennesaw, I am in Chattanooga. Hit me up if you get up this way and we'll get a beer.
Sounds great man and thank you.
What did you have to do as a crew chief? Were you armed? What are you up to these days? Do you have a favorite helicopter?
Thank you for your service and stay safe out there :)
As a crew chief I maintained the planes as well as flew on them. I was responsible for making sure the planes were safe for fight and clean for missions. In flight I assisted pilots with flight operations and navigation and was a mechanical representative for the helicopter, essentially if something went wrong it was my job to know what, why and how to fix it.
I was not armed but the HMX-1 (the squadron) security guards were at all times.
Currently I am living in Kennesaw, GA and attending Kennesaw State University working towards a degree in History Education. I drink a lot of beer, play hockey in a local league and play airsoft in north GA.
Favorite helicopter will always be the CH-46, picture it as the Chinooks little brother. We call the 46 a phrog, because from the front it looks like a frog sitting on a lilypad. It was a great helicopter because it was highly capable and easy to maintain. Unfortunately it's being phased out by the Marine Corps and being replaced with the V-22 Tilt-rotor Osprey...
They aren't going to fly the president around in an Osprey are they? That pretty much counts as an assassination attempt.
I could not agree more with that comment. As far as I know they will not be anytime soon. They don't even have Ospreys at HMX thankfully.
Bush era budget was developing VH-71 as the new Marine One. Obama axed it right away as too expensive. No new replacement is in the works yet that I know of.
That is 100% correct. The VH-71 was a horrible idea, logistically and operationally. Why we even considered it I have no idea. The aging VH-3D fleet will need replacing soon. We should have chosen this for the replacement. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sikorsky_S-92
Can you please explain why? Sans classified info, of course, but I cannot fathom the differences between the vessels (right term?), so I'm very curious as to what the differences are. What made the 71 suck, other than cost? Why is the Sikorsky good? What's better about that over the 3D's?
The 71 was a logistical nightmare. Parts for the plane were in England. Lockheed Martin had no idea how HMX operated. They promised that oh yes of course the 71 can do this. Once HMX and the secret service and WHCA got their hands on it they quickly realized that the 71 in fact could not do 50% of what they thought it could. Breaking down the 71 to put it into a C-17 was a nightmare as well, the entire tail section had to come off.
Sikorsky already has been working with HMX for 60 years, they know what they need and how to do it. The Sikorsky 92 (superhawk) was smaller but they made realistic projections to HMX. They explained what it could and could not do because they knew what the agencies would want on it. The plane is easier to transport in a C-17 and logistically all the parts are right here in the US.
The 3D's are just old, plain and simple...
I don't know anything about planes, but doesn't the government in general always buy american?
Typically yes, Lockheed Martin (american) had a joint contract on the 71 with Augusta Westland(also known as the 101 in europe). Thus the 71's parts were based in Europe.
how safe are those helicopters? you always hear about crashes and stuff, makes me wonder if it's safe to put up presidents in there... and also, did you have a ton of background checks and stuff done on you? and psych evals? I mean you are literally holding the life of the president in your hands. how common are screwups?
Background checks are very, very thorough. They won't let just anybody work on the planes. Helicopters are very safe. In the entire 60 some odd years that HMX-1 has been flying the president there has never been a mishap of any kind with him on board. Helicopter crashes have happened though, 3 or 4 that I know of at HMX but that's only within the last 25 years. There was a VH-60 that crashed back in 1993 and an HMX-1 CH-46 that crashed in 1998. Don't let this worry you though. Flying is still the safest way to travel. I have flown over 750 flight hours without any major incident.
what were some minor incidents?
Taxiing down a runway in the summer, was so hot outside that my brakes locked up and we almost tipped up and put the rotor blades in the ground. We scratched up the bottom of the plane on that one.
Some navigational equipment in one of the bays under the cockpit caught fire in flight and we had to land and put the fire out.
Also in the summer in Texas this time flying back to the airport my landing gear would not come down. The pump that operated the system for the landing gear had seized and I had to use the emergency system for the gear in order to get them down and land safely. If that hadn't worked we would have landed on mattresses.
These are considered minor because no one was hurt and damage to the helicopter was minor.
What was your first day on the job like; nerves, thoughts, expectations and the reality?
I was nervous wreck. I was triple checking everything before my flight. All I could think about was the helicopter and making sure I didn't miss anything, everything had to be perfect. I wasn't really expecting anything because I had heard enough from past crew chiefs about it and I was to busy with the plane. But just before takeoff I got some butterflies in my stomach. As far as the reality goes I was blown away. Flying past the Washington monument, touching down on the south lawn and saluting the man as he walked on board was such a rush that I almost didn't have time to appreciate it. It seemed as if I had just taken off when we were already dropping him off at Andrews AFB.
Thanks sir, for both your service and the awesome AMA.
Conversely, how was your last day on the job?
A relief, doing that job day in and day out was very stressful. There was a lot of travel involved and a lot of lost sleep. My last day I got very early and just kinda soaked the day in so to speak. I took everything slow and tried to savor it as much as I could. One last approach past the Washington monument, opened the doors, stood at attention, saluted President Obama as he walked down the stairs. He shook my hand we talked for about 30 seconds and then he walked off. I closed up the doors and flew on out. When I got home that night I sat out on my front porch and polished off a bottle of Jameson. Here's a pic of my last day actually. http://i.imgur.com/02YwU.jpg
why was there a last day?
did you resign or does someone make the call or do they just replace you guys often?
what are you planning to do now?
Marine Ones are limited to a term of one year (longer if there is no replacement available). They keep it short so that other marines have the opportunity to do the job. Currently I am attending college in GA at KSU.
Did Obama know it was your last day?
He did, my pilot informed the milaide who in turn told Obama
great AMA! thank you.
Used to live in Maryland and you guys would always fly over my house from Camp David. Are you able to go as low as you want, in DC as well? I've seen Marine One nipping the treeline on a few occasions...
Flight restrictions for DC keep you at maximum altitude of 200 ft for helicopters. I've flown as low as 50 ft through the mall area and Anacostia/Potomac river area though. It's a pretty cool experience.
How do you feel about being 'that guy in the background' in thousands of pictures? Have you ever seen yourself on the news/web/tv show as they are showing video/pictures of the prez boarding Marine One?
I've seen myself hundreds of times. I'm all over a national geographic special called On Board Marine One. I'll also be in an occasional news clip or news paper here and there. It doesn't bug me being the guy in the background at all because that way I get the satisfaction of working an awesome job without any of the negatives of being famous (like the guy in the foreground of those pics)
I've actually seen that NatGeo special. Next time it's on I'll look for you. And if I'm watching it with anybody, they'll get a coolstorybro about the time I communicated with you on this one website that they've never heard of.
Make sure you add a True Story when you're done telling him about me.
But of course. A quick follow-up question for ya - When in flight, you say you assist the pilots and crew. How busy are you up there? Are you constantly busy-bodying around or are you just kind of waiting for stuff to happen?
A little of both, usually when the president is on board all my focus is in the cockpit assisting the pilots with anything (nav, comms, switches, etc.). If it's just a routine training flight I still do that to a certain extent but most times I would be training another crew chief in the back or looking out the windows making sure there wasn't another plane about to hit us. Flying cross country was boring and monotonous, sometimes it was hard not to fall asleep.
First time I've gone through and read an entire AMA. I maintain the EW systems on planes in the AF. Thanks for posting man!
Your welcome and thank you for your service
Anyone ever barf?
All the time actually, thankfully we stock the helicopter with plenty of barf bags.
Did either President ever barf?
Not to my knowledge but I'm sure it's happened in the past.
Nice! Was anyone ever drunk?
Bush senior and Raegan used to keep alcohol on the helicopter, but Bush junior and Obama did not. It's probably happened though.
Official Marine One barf bags?
Just a standard little envelope with a plastic bag inside to pull out and barf in. Funny story: we were flying in New York City scouting out locations with a security guard in back. It was his first time flying and it was very windy that day. I saw he was looking sick so I pointed out the envelopes with the barf bags in them to him. I turned back to the cockpit for a minute and then turn back to check on him. He had the tiny envelope open and was getting ready to puke into that! WTF!
Thank you for that...made my day...
Is Joe Biden a boob in person? Also, you might have the coolest job I've ever heard about.
I never got the chance to fly with Biden but from what I heard about him he is a dick. I flew Cheney on multiple occasions and I can firmly attest to you he is a huge dick....and that he loves planters salted peanuts, lol
Could you elaborate on Cheney being a dick from a personal experience?
Also, this is the most interesting and best AMA I have read in a long time.
Cheney was a dick in several ways. He was always late, 15 min at least. He never saluted except in one occasion when there was mass publicity. He was always grouchy and left a mess in the helicopter. Also, part of our job was making sure the back of the plane was stocked with snacks and whatnot and he would take every packet of peanuts he could find! I even tested it one time and I put 12 packs, 12!, in the back...all gone. This sounds dumb but it was just one small thing to irk a crew chief...because that meant you had to restock them all which was a pain.
So, he's like the Penguin, but he likes peanuts instead of fish?
How often would you get any kind of time with the President outside of short pleasantries?
very rarely...only 3 or 4 times during my entire tour...
During your time did you ever work with the crew of Air Force one? Thank you for your time, your replies and your service (and im not even american)
We worked with them in the sense of passing the president to each other but we never interacted outside of that. Occasionally we would get a tour of air force one and in return we'd give them one of Marine One...Air Force One is NICE!
I know I could probably Google this but how did you get into that line of work? What helicopters did you fly? And how cushy were the insides?
Joining the marines was pretty easy, mostly paperwork then bootcamp. The selection process for Marine One after you get to the squadron is very tough though. There are multiple requirements and you must be voted on by the peers in your shop. It's mostly a political game among your peers though, most of the requirements are just met with time in service.
I originally crewed CH-46s but after I received my clearance I worked on VH-3Ds (The helicopter you usually see on the south lawn of the white house.) The squadron also uses VH-60s (blackhawks) but we use those more for overseas trips because they are smaller and easier to break down.
The insides are nice considering how stripped down they are. Weight is a major issue with helicopters so the insides have to be mostly very light materials. All in all it's not quite on par with Air Force One but they're still pretty nice for a short flight.
By the point where you are eligible for the Marine One vote you're most likely a corporal or a sergeant by then. If you've established yourself as a hard worker and a good leader then you really don't need to "get your peers to vote for you". They will vote for who they see is best for the job.
There wasn't so much additional training as there is just minimum requirements to be eligible (flight hours, maintenance hours, Vice Presidential lifts, etc...)
You mention going to college but as a former Marine (not in the wing though), I thought all pilots had to be officers. Clarify?
Btw, great post man.
Clarification. I was an enlisted crew chief, not a pilot... Btw, thanks for the compliment
From Australia but just wanted to thank you for the interesting AMA.
May I ask who you supported in the last Presidential election?
You may, I voted for McCain but strictly because of his policy on the war in the middle east. I like Obama and I like a lot of his policies but I did not agree with what he wanted to do with the war during his campaign. In several ways McCain and Obama were very close in comparison though.
What was your absolute favorite part of the job and why?
Great AMA by the way. Thanks for answering so many questions.
This might surprise you but I really miss working on the helicopters, Marine One in particular. Something about working on a plane and being able to call a multi-million dollar aircraft "mine" was very cool.
That sounds awesome.
How did working on Marine One differ from other helicopters you've worked on?
Also, are you still in the marines? If not, what are your plans for the future?
Marine One was more about appearance and cleanliness, as well as maintenance. It was kind of like taking care of a classic car in your garage, your constantly polishing and wiping it down. I'm not in anymore, I'm currently going to college in GA at Kennesaw State University studying history ed.
When you fly, do you have multiple helicopters flying around as 'decoys'?
In some cases
Did you ever get a chance to talk to them, or were they all business all the time?
I got a couple of "how are you" or "thank you for your service" comments, but most of the time they were all business. The only real chance for interaction is an occasional meeting and Camp David. On the helicopter it is strictly business.
Flown any cool dignitaries?
Favourite place to fly to/from?
Unfortunately I never got the chance to fly any foreign dignitaries.
Favorite places to fly: Keep in mind the squadron is based out of DC so picture the flights from DC to these places as well as flying around in these places. -New York -Normandy, France -West Palm Beach, FL -Chicago, IL
How does a helicopter fly to Normandy? Air refuel? Does the president helicopter around in those places (other than local like from the White House to Andrews or Camp David) or is it only car rides on the road?
We break the helicopters down and stick them into C-17's, fly them to Normandy and then build them back up.
He rides in his limo in several locations but if there is a larger distance (relatively speaking) say Waco airport to Bush's ranch (45min-1hr driving) (10-15 min flying) he would fly in the helicopter there. Most cases though we do not fly the president in a helicopter for more than 1 hr.
Why is that? I understand that it takes more time to drive but it is so much more expensive to operate a helicopter... please tell me there were security reasons for avoiding having him on the road?
security is the principle reason why...and it's not that much more expensive when you take operational costs of a road trip into consideration. You have to use local police assets as well as secret service to escort the motorcade and block off all the highways and streets on the route (results in an hour long or more traffic jam). In comparison it's pretty darn cheap to just fly a helicopter for 15 minutes.
Did you get this badge?
I did indeed, you can see me wearing that badge in this picture actually. It's pinned on my right breast pocket. http://i.imgur.com/3v5Qb.jpg
Best IAmA in a long time - thanks!
did you ever get an upskirt of any hot interns?
lol, no...the only chicks that ever rode on the helicopter were the first lady and the occasional secret service woman, all of whom wore pants...
Are the secret service women hot?
Most of the ones I saw, yes.
Was either Obama or Bush scared of heights?
Not to my knowledge...
How does your arrangement compare to other marines? Are you "on call" whenever, or do you have normal on-duty hours like everyone? Do you eat/sleep in a different place?
Sometimes yes and sometimes no. I can't divulge much info here but there are cases where we are "on call" 24 hours a day for multiple days where we do eat and sleep in different places. We also have normal duty days as well though.
Which one tipped better?
No tips for me...but I did get some challenge coins from several higher ups...not from the president though...
What are challenge coins?
Who started the conversation when you spoke to the presidents?
Most times it was the president that started the actual conversation after pleasantries were exchanged.
Funniest thing the President ever said to ya?
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