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January 29, 2013 8:34 am

The Amend Corner: Security detail

Written by Don Amend

It’s been a few weeks since I wrote a column, not so much because I needed time off as because I’ve been having a bit of trouble communicating with the old Greek muses who inspire us literary and artistic types.

I can usually depend on inspiration from Clio, the muse of history, when something historic, such as the second inauguration of Barack Obama, happens. But this time, I think Melpomene, the muse of tragedy is speaking up for Republicans and Erato, the muse of love poetry, is arguing for the Democrats, and, as one might expect, they haven’t been able to compromise. That leaves an opening for Thalia, the muse of comedy, of course, but the other muses won’t even let her in the conversation.

Seriously, though, being a good Baptist, I rejected Greek mythology long ago, so I can’t blame the muses. The real reason that I haven’t written the past couple of weeks is I haven’t been able to write a column clearly presenting my ambiguous positions on guns, although I’m still working on it.

So, in the absence of muses, I am receiving inspiration from the inauguration parade, which is taking place as I write. The president just exited his armored SUV to walk down the street, and that SUV has prompted this essay.

In my life, I have seen only two sitting presidents in the flesh, along with one candidate on his way to being the president.

The first time was in 1963. That fall, President John Kennedy visited Laramie and spoke at the War Memorial Field House to a very friendly welcome, even from Republicans — which, at the time, included me. Following his speech, I hustled out of the field house to get a closer view of the president, and I watched from the curb as he rode down Fraternity Row in an open convertible, escorted by five or six Secret Service members on foot and followed by a car full of other agents.

About six weeks later, Kennedy was dead, bringing to an end, not only his presidency, but the presidential practice of riding in open convertibles.

A quarter of a century later, George H.W. Bush dropped by Greybull on his way from a rally in Worland to one in Cody, thanks, I understand, to his friendship with Sen. Alan Simpson. As the local American Government teacher, I was allowed to leave school early and escort all the seniors to the Elks Hall so they could get a good look at Mr. Bush. I stood about 10 feet from Mr. Bush as he spoke and was close enough to shake his hand afterward, and even closer to a Secret Service agent — so close, in fact, that if I had made any threatening moves toward the vice president, the guy could have punched me out without two steps.

I did find it odd that, while neither the seniors nor I were subjected to any sort of security check, not even a metal detector, my son, an eighth grader, had his French horn sniffed by a dog before being allowed to join the band, as if the high school band was more of a threat than a Democrat, which I was by then, standing 10 feet from the candidate.

Well, flash forward to 2009, when I joined a sizable crowd on the Old Faithful boardwalk hoping to grab a photo for the Tribune. Well before the appearance of the president, a helicopter began circling the area, and a couple of guys with guns were plainly visible atop Old Faithful Inn, as were Secret Service and Park Service agents along the boardwalk leading to the other side of the geyser. I saw President Obama when his party arrived, but he was probably 200 yards away, and while I got a picture, it was lousy.

The security also was tight when I arrived at the West Yellowstone airport, still looking to fulfill my editor’s demand for a picture of the president. I had contacted the White House and was made a temporary member of the White House Press Pool. Armed with badge no. 01493, I was allowed to go outside the terminal building, where I would see the president from about 50 yards away and take his picture through a chain-link fence.

Before I could go outside, though, I had to empty my pockets for a security person who did a double take when he saw the small pen-knife/screwdriver/nail file attached to my keys. He looked it over for several seconds before concluding that I probably couldn’t hurt the president by throwing that knife 50 yards through a chain-link fence. That was fortunate, because I did get a picture of the Obama family as they made their way from a helicopter to Air Force One on their way home.

The extreme security measures I saw during the inauguration today are explainable. Four assassination attempts, one successful and another nearly so, and the rise of international terrorism, among other factors, have increased concern about presidential security. That’s just the way it is, and I have to accept it.

Still, I think back to that day that I stood on the curb and watched a president ride by in an open convertible with barely any security surrounding him, and given what happened a few weeks later, feeling like I touched history in a small way.

Too bad I’ll never get that close again.

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