President of the United States (POTUS) Meet & Greet
NOTE: Pictures below narrative
On 29 March 2014, in a conference room of the Ritz Carlton in Riyadh, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, I had an opportunity to 'meet & greet' the President of the United States after 28 years of active duty in the military. A bit ironic? Maybe.
Despite the protocols noted in the email trail below, the experience was well worth it...though, also to be honest, not one I most likely will opt to endure again, at least by myself.
As it were, given I was working in support of the US State Department conducting a study & analysis of the KSA Diplomatic Security Special Forces (DSSF), it was rather 'enlightening,' should I say, and a bit stunning learning some of the details of POTUS' trip. Such as...
Pre-trip coordination by the White House had them asking of the US Embassy in Riyadh, a city located in the DESERT!, if they needed “maritime assets?!”
The entourage in support of POTUS arrived in 40+ aircraft, to include C17 Globemasters.
The group consisted of approximately 850 people.
They required 450+ rooms in the Ritz and downtown Four Seasons.
Transportation requirements, in addition to that flown in were approximately 150 US Embassy cars and drivers.
While profanely demanding from an operations center in the US Embassy compound that a black SUV be removed immediately from an area in the vicinity of the embassy compound, the Secret Service agent was discretely told that it was HIS VEHICLE!
POTUS spent exactly two hours and two minutes meeting with the Saudi King.
Interestingly enough, while the president could take a few minutes out of his schedule to ‘meet & greet’ US Embassy employees and their families, the Secretary of State, John Kerry, apparently couldn’t be bothered as he stood outside the Ritz, just a hundred feet from those who work for HIM, glanced at the long line standing outside and, without even a node, drove off in his ‘caravan’ of 20 or so vehicles. Sad excuse for a leader!
After the M&G, we were ‘contained’ in the conference room while POTUS got in ‘the Beast’ and was driven approximately 100 yards, escorted by approximately 30 vehicles, to Marine One where he boarded and was flown back to Air Force One.
When the US Embassy in Riyadh provided the White House with the employee bill for ‘overtime,’ the White House balked, stating the overtime should have been only for one day, Saturday, 29 March, his day of departure, and not for Friday, 28 March, his date of arrival. The fact that the White House does not know that weekends in the Middle East are FRIDAY and SATURDAY, not Saturday and Sunday should be of GREAT concern.
Prior to the event, had a brief discussion with a few coworkers of mine (fellow military retirees) who'd opted out of attending the Meet & Greet because they had no desire to meet, "Barack Obama," and they questioned how could I, in good conscience, have an interest in meeting with him? My answer was relatively easy, "I'm not meeting with 'Barack Obama,' I'm meeting with the President of the United States.' One MUST keep things in their proper perspective.
BOTTOM LINE: An experience worth having.
Sent: Monday, March 24, 2014 4:49 PM
To: Riyadh All Employees
Subject: Meet & Greet UPDATE No. 1
This a follow up to this morning’s invitation to the Meet & Greet. The Meet & Greet will be an early morning event. Exact pick up times will follow. No POVs will be allowed in for the event – we can move to the event only in the buses that will be leaving the Embassy. Please see below for the details.
For Your Preparation for the Event:
There will be a name check at both the Embassy and the hotel. Only participants who have RSVP-ed will be allowed to board the buses and to enter the hotel. For this reason, if you have not done so, please submit the names of everyone who will be attending (the cutoff for submitting names is Tuesday at noon.) Buses will not be able to accommodate car seats.
In order to get people to the event and processed through the metal detectors and security, we will all have to plan on an early start to the morning.
All who will attend the event will need to board buses at the Embassy (times and details to follow). Security concerns will not permit the use of POVs to the hotel.
Please be aware that there will be at least a 2-3 hour wait prior to the actual 10:00 am event. There is no seating at the event.
After the event, security concerns will require that attendees wait at the venue, and then to board the buses back to the DQ. Please do not plan on being able to return to the Embassy before 11:30 or 12:00.
In order to facilitate the screening process, the security team has requested that you have your ID ready and that you limit metal objects on your person and in your clothing. Ladies are advised to limit the size of their purses. Strollers cannot be admitted to the event.
Also for security screening purposes, we cannot bring liquids/beverages or food past the security checkpoint. There will be water stations in the Meet & Greet room.
It will be a long day. We recommend that children be at least age 6 or older to be able to manage the 4 to 6 hour time commitment.
For American Employees bringing children: If you are planning to bring the children, we need their names and ages.
At the event there will be a riser on which children 17 – 6 years of age can stand (without parents).
Upon arrival at the gate you, will have to walk to the entrance of the hotel, a distance of approximately 150 meters.
Thanks for your patience and understanding. Further updates (transportation, exact times, etc.) will follow.
Sent: Wednesday, March 26, 2014 11:25 AM
To: Riyadh All Employees
Subject: Meet & Greet UPDATE No. 2 – TRANSPORTATION GUIDANCE
IMPORTANT: PLEASE BE SURE TO CAREFULLY READ THIS MESSAGE IN ITS ENTIRETY !
Below are the guidelines we all need to follow in order to make the Meet & Greet (M&G) a successful and smooth event for all of us. There is a lot of detail due to security and other arrangements. Please keep in mind that in order for all to enjoy the M&G event, it is important for all to follow these guidelines.
1. The room capacity at the hotel where the Meet & Greet will occur on March 29, as well as transportation to move everyone to the event, are factors leading us to carefully monitor the total number of planned attendees. If you have already submitted an access request but then decide that you will not attend, please be sure to immediately inform us via an email to: PotusRiyadhMeetGreet@state.gov . If we can identify cancellations, it will help us in processing those who have already confirmed that they will be attending.
2. Per Update No. 1, for security reasons Personally-Owned Vehicles will not be able to access the Ritz for the M&G. The only access will be via bus transport arranged by the Embassy, which will be staged near the Embassy compound. The buses will transport all U.S. staff and families, LE Staff, and Eskan Village personnel to the M&G.
3. Security screening and transportation requirements will make for an early start and a considerable time commitment for all attendees. More details follow below -- please plan accordingly.
4. The buses will need to make repeated trips between the Embassy and the hotel, so we need to be able to load and unload the vehicles quickly and without delay. We are asking all who will be attending the M&G to get to the Embassy as early as possible. The buses will begin boarding at 06:15 a.m. As was the case at a recent SecState M&G, it is best for all if those who can get to the Embassy on their own to do so, be it on foot, self-drive, or catching a ride with a friend in a POV. For U.S. personnel – if you cannot otherwise get to the Embassy, please let Motor Pool know and we will try to arrange transportation for you to the Embassy. Please let MP know your requirement no later than 12:00 noon on Thursday, so that we can plan the pickup schedule. Please be advised that we need to be able to move people from the Embassy to the hotel in time for the event, so Motor Pool will have to do any at-home pickups early in the morning, and those passengers will need to plan on connecting with earlier buses. We won’t be able to pick people up in time to take later buses.
5. The buses can only take seated passengers – no/no standing passengers, children’s car seats, strollers, or backpacks. Those items cannot be brought into the M&G in any case. Update No. 1 had already advised that for security screening purposes, strollers, food, and liquids/beverages cannot be brought to the event. If you bring bottled water or beverages to drink while waiting for the bus, you will need to be ready to discard the bottle/container before boarding the bus.
6. Boarding location: Boarding will be at the intersection at the far end of the street where USERA has its vendors fairs. Passengers will need to line up on the sidewalk from the intersection at that far corner, back to the employee pedestrian entrance at Charlie Gate (the rear gate of the Chancery compound, nearest to the USERA shop and Uncle Sam’s). The buses will be staged nearby, and will be brought to the intersection for boarding. Please have your ID badges out and ready for when you board the bus, and again when you get to the security screening point at the hotel. There will be name checks both before people board the bus, and again at the hotel screening point.
7. The first bus will load at the Embassy at 6:15 a.m. and depart for the hotel at 06:30 a.m., and buses will be making repeated trips from the Embassy to the hotel. Early arrivals are better and will assist us in our effort to move as many people as possible – and help to ensure that all who are on the final transport list get into the M&G event. The last bus will depart from the Embassy at 08:45 a.m. -- if you don’t make that bus, you cannot attend the event. Don’t be left behind!
8. The U.S. Secret Service (USSS) will begin screening people at the Ritz at 08:00 a.m.. The early arrivals will have to wait a bit for the USSS screening point to begin processing them, but the early birds will also the first to get into the M&G hall. Early is also better to facilitate transportation and screening, and enable more people to attend the event.
9. After the event, buses will be waiting outside the hotel to begin taking everyone back to the Embassy. All at the M&G site will need to wait until after the delegation has cleared the hotel site and until USSS tells us that that we can leave.
Buses and Coasters will be taking people back who only need to get to the Embassy.
Coasters will be on hand for those who cannot otherwise get back to their DQ residences from the Embassy and need to dropped off at home.
We thank everyone for their cooperation and look forward to a memorable occasion with the President.
Sent: Thursday, March 27, 2014 03:15 PM
Subject: FW: BE PREPARED - for Your Time With the President! - Meet & Greet Update #3 - Additional Guidance
In case you did not receive the following guidance.
This email is UNCLASSIFIED.
Sent: Thursday, March 27, 2014 12:43 PM
To: Riyadh All Employees
Subject: BE PREPARED - for Your Time With the President! - Meet & Greet Update #3 - Additional Guidance
All – please be sure to share this with your families/friends who will be attending! We are looking forward to this special Meet & Greet (M&G) event and hope that all who can be there will enjoy it. Please be sure to carefully read the additional guidance below.
(previously-issued guidance is appended below this Update #3)
1. Event Access List: Please note that attendance list has closed and new names cannot be added. If you signed up but no longer plan to attend the M&G, please email PotusRiyadhMeetGreet@state.gov as soon as possible. An accurate attendee list will help us make the check-in process faster.
2. Identification: You must bring your Embassy ID badge and show it when you board the buses at the Embassy, and again when you get to the security checkpoint at the Ritz. If you don’t have an Embassy ID, then bring your passport or another English-language piece of official identification. Your name will be checked against a list.
3. Entry to Ritz Hotel compound: No personally-owned vehicles may enter the Ritz compound. Buses will transport all U.S. staff and families, LE Staff, and Eskan Village personnel from the Embassy to the M&G. Per previous guidance, all attendees need to get to the Embassy as early as possible in order to be transported to the hotel in time for the event. Also per previous notice, the deadline for requesting Motor Pool assistance to get to the Embassy passed at noon today.
4. Items you can bring onto the buses, the hotel, and the M&G: Digital cameras, cellphone-based cameras, compact video cameras, and computer tablets are welcome (given the large crowd and the clearance requirements, however, large videocams are not to be brought to the event). Child sling carriers (worn on the parent’s chest or back, commonly made by Ergo and Bjorn) can be used, but please see the notes below about how long the day will be.
5. Items not to bring to the buses, the hotel or the M&G: We have a great many people to load on the buses to the hotel, and all M&G attendees will have to go through the security screening. Children’s car seats, strollers, backpacks, food, water, stroller frames (picnic-basket like child carriers), playmats, toy kits, water, and food may not/not be brought on the bus or into the M&G. If you take food or liquid to consume while you wait to board the buses at the Embassy, please plan on discarding those items before boarding the buses. There will be neither time nor opportunity for autographs or signatures.
6. Special note for all, particularly parents and for those with physical infirmities – plan on your M&G attendance requiring an investment of 4-5 hours or more: The security screening and security hold/shutdown requirements, combined with the need to move every person in a very large group of attendees from the Embassy to the Ritz and back again, will require a very early start to the day. All who plan to attend should plan on breakfasting at home before they go to the Embassy. Security requires that the venue will be locked down at 09:45 (no more bathroom breaks after that point, folks!). The event should conclude by 10:30 or earlier, and then all will have to wait for up to half an hour until the delegation clears the compound. At that point we can begin the many trips required to get people transported back to the Embassy. Such a long period away from home, and without the comfort items that cannot be brought onto the buses, to the hotel or into the M&G room, could be very uncomfortable for young children and those with infirmities. We regret that so much time is required, but ask that all be very mindful of how much time they will be away from home and from their personal conveniences, and to be sure that they are prepared for this rather time-consuming experience.
7. Early birds wait a bit at the hotel, but are the first to gain entry to M&G room: The first bus departs @ 6:30 a.m. Early arrivals will have to wait for a while at the hotel until Secret Service begins security checks @ 08:00, but those who arrive on earlier buses will have the advantage of being first into the M&G room. We have just been informed of additional visit support requirements that will consume some of the resources we have to move people from the Embassy to the hotel; this late change makes it all the more important for people to get to the Embassy early in the morning for the movement to the hotel.
8. Attention Parents: The White House has determined that some children ages 6-13 can be pre-positioned on a set of risers on the right-hand side of the room, if the parents wish. Per White House instructions, parents cannot accompany the children to the risers -- only the previously cleared site officers can be near the risers with the children. The control officers have a list of the children’s names and will them up to the front roughly half an hour before the events start. Please make sure that bathroom breaks, water, etc. are taken care of before then. The risers can safely accommodate only a limited number of children, and we will have to be careful not to exceed that number. You can choose not to have your child on the risers. If you are not confident that your child will be able to be on the riser without your supervision, it is best that you enjoy the event together in the main body of attendees.
This email is UNCLASSIFIED.