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Planning Trips Worthy Of A President


President Obama's trip to Israel presents all sorts of diplomatic difficulties, as we've heard. And there are plenty of logistical challenges too. That's a job for the White House advance team, responsible for planning and executing every scheduling and security detail of the president's trips at home and abroad, down to the minute.

Spencer Geissinger served eight years as President George W. Bush's advance man. His travels took him to over 98 foreign countries. He gave us a sense of what the work entails.

SPENCER GEISSINGER: We would do a survey trip, sometimes a month and a half prior to the actual visit by the president, where we fly over to the foreign country, we meet with the official officials. We do what is called a site survey of all the potential venues that the president could visit. And basically what we create would be a building block for a presidential schedule and present that to the members of the president's senior staff.

And then we would do what is called a pre-advance and drop the advance team on the ground. And then they would stay there from that point up until the arrival of the president and first lady.

MARTIN: You're getting paid to do a lot of sightseeing.

GEISSINGER: Absolutely, it's one of the greatest jobs any person can ever have.


GEISSINGER: As you said in my intro, I've been to 98 countries and most of those were on the taxpayers' nickel. But we were very cheerful...


MARTIN: I'm sure it was well worth it.

GEISSINGER: Yeah, it was.

MARTIN: Geissinger said ensuring the president's safety is always the advance team's top priority. He recounted for us President Bush 2008 trip to Israel and a delicate security transition, as the president left Israel and headed into the Palestinian territories.

GEISSINGER: He went to the West Bank, to Ramallah, and there was a handoff of at the border. So the security timing and logistics of moving the motorcade through Jerusalem over to the West Bank, and then crossing over into the territory and the security, the Israeli security, handing off the president to the Palestinian Authority security, that will then take the motorcade on up to Ramallah for the meetings there. You know, all of that has to be highly choreographed.

We had originally planned to fly but it was bad weather, and so we ended up driving. Through the hills and the mountains on our way over there, you know, it can be a little disconcerting.

MARTIN: So too, Geissinger says, are the things the advance team cannot control.

GEISSINGER: I was working on his trip to the Olympics, to Beijing. And I had gone to China maybe three times prior to the actual trip to negotiate with the Chinese on credentials and access. And for hours and hours and hours, you have these negotiating meetings on where you can go, and how many cars you can have in the motorcade, and so on and so forth.

And so I failed. The day that we took off from Andrews Air Force Base to fly to China, we didn't have one credential. So the president is asking me on Air Force One, as we're flying over there: Is everything set and, you know, what event can we go to? And I basically just told him, I said, sir, you can go to whatever you want.


GEISSINGER: And I just told the Secret Service, I said, listen, I said, you know, I'm hoping that when we get there the Chinese will give us the credentials and the Olympic Committee will give us the credentials that we need. If he decides he wants to go to the Olympic swimming event, we're going to get to the car and go. And I doubt if they'll stop us and that's what we did.

It ends up all working out. But those are the kinds of things, you know, you just can't always control everything. And an advance man by nature is a control freak. And so, when you can't control other people in other countries, you know, you lay awake at night in bed thinking, man, I hope this works out.

MARTIN: Spencer Geissinger, he served as a deputy assistant for Operations and Logistics under former President George W. Bush. He spoke with us this past week from our bureau in New York.

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(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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