Former President Flies Home To Texas Aboard VC-25
The US military bid farewell Tuesday to the outgoing commander
in chief during an emotional departure ceremony, in which he called
leading men and women in uniform the highlight of his
A joint service honor guard, military band and about 4,000
cheering, flag-waving fans greeted former President George W. Bush
and former First Lady Laura Bush as they arrived at Andrews Air
Force Base from what's been called "the ultimate change of command
The participants -- former staffers, invited guests and
servicemembers and their families -- waited inside the 316th
Airlift Wing's Hangar Six to hail the president and former Vice
President Dick Cheney (shown above -- Cheney is in a wheelchair
due to a reported back injury suffered while moving into his new
home -- Ed.)
They watched the inaugural ceremonies on a jumbotron screen
suspended from the hangar ceiling, then waited with anticipation as
Bush lifted off from the Capitol grounds aboard the Marine Corps
VH-60 helicopter referred to as "Executive One."
The crowd roared as the former president and vice president made
their dramatic entrance into the hangar. The rousing sounds of the
"Air Force One" movie theme rung out as the huge hangar slowly
opened, revealing the huge blue-and-white presidential aircraft
glistening in the sunlight.
Children climbed onto their parents' shoulders to catch a better
glimpse, and spectators hoisted cameras high to capture the moment
Bush admitted that he wasn't sure how he would feel passing the
presidency to the next administration, but declared, "I am
thankful, I am grateful and I am joyful!"
"I've had a lot of great experiences," as president, he told the
group, but said none has been better than leading military members
who have volunteered to serve the country in a time of danger. Bush
said he'll miss being commander in chief and being able to stand in
front of the troops to tell them "how much we respect you and how
much we admire you."
Bush said he'll leave the presidency with his "head held high,"
confident that he took the right course in difficult times.
Historians will sort out his time in office, he said, expressing
belief that they'll note "we did not shirk our duty, we did not shy
away" from difficult decisions and that "we served with
Cheney praised Bush for taking on "the big jobs that needed
doing" after the September 11, 2001, terror attacks launched some
of the greatest challenges to ever confront the United States.
"George W. Bush protected America," he said. "History remembers
such leaders and marks them well."
Bush shook hands with many in the crowd, then turned toward the
VC-25 aircraft that would take him home to Texas. The flight was
designated Special Air Mission 28000 rather than Air Force One,
which belongs only to the airplane carrying the sitting
On the tarmac, Air Force Brig. Gen. Maggie Woodward, the 89th
Airlift Wing commander, escorted the Bushes to a red carpet
stretching to the aircraft. A 42-piece joint honor guard flanked
both sides of the carpet.
At the end of the carpet, Air Force Col. Steven Shepro,
commander of the 316th Wing, and Col. Eric Snadecki, his vice
commander, said their final goodbyes before Bush climbed the steps
to the plane.
Shepro said he felt honored for him and his airmen to bid a
personal goodbye to the departing former president. "It's like
saying goodbye to an old friend," he said. He credited his elite
team that regularly serves the president -- with the Air Force's
only flightline protocol office and a second-to-none security
detachment, among them -- with bringing honor to the Air Force.
"This is another moment in history that they share," he said.
"We're giving him a fitting sendoff just like we always do."
Command Chief James Davis, Andrews' top noncommissioned officer,
relished his base's role in the inauguration and presidential
departure ceremony. "We are a part of history, from the person
working the logistics to the ones in the cordon to the ones
marching in the parade," he said.
"We're all here to honor our former honor in chief as he
departs," said Army Sgt. Tyler Murray, one of six members of the
3rd Infantry Regiment "The Old Guard" to serve in the joint service
honor guard. "President Bush has looked out for his troops, and
we're here to honor him."
"I've been involved in a lot of high-priority missions," said
Army Pfc. Jared Robison, a fellow "Old Guard" soldier. "But this
one is the highest on my list, personally."
"It's wonderful being a part of it, especially as a military
member," agreed Air Force Tech. Sgt. Steven Hawkens, from the 316th
Security Forces. "It's breathtaking, it's exciting, it's wonderful
to see these things going on."
(Aero-News thanks Donna Miles, American Forces Press