Troops bid former President Bush farewell at Andrews

  • Published
  • By Donna Miles
  • American Forces Press Service
Military officials bid farewell to the outgoing commander in chief during a departure ceremony Jan. 20 at Andrews Air Force Base where he called leading men and women in uniform the highlight of his presidency.

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 here from what's been called "the ultimate change of command ceremony."

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. They watched the inaugural ceremonies on a jumbotron screen suspended from the hangar ceiling, then waited with anticipation as former President 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 in history.

Former President Bush said 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," but none has been better than leading military members who have volunteered to serve the country in a time of danger, he told the group of military officials and family members. Former President 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."

Former President 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 conviction."

Former Vice President Cheney praised former President Bush for taking on "the big jobs that needed doing" after the Sept. 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."

Former President 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 president.

On the tarmac, Brig. Gen. Margaret H. 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, Col. Steven Shepro, the 316th Wing commander, and Col. Eric Snadecki, his vice commander, said their final goodbyes before former President Bush climbed the steps to the plane.

Colonel 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 who 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."

Chief Master Sgt. James Davis, the Andrews AFB command chief, 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.

"It's wonderful being a part of (the farewell ceremony), especially as a military member," said Tech. Sgt. Steven Hawkens, from the 316th Security Forces. "It's breathtaking. It's exciting. It's wonderful to see these things going on."

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