The Seward Phoenix Log - News of the Eastern Kenai Peninsula since 1966

By Nancy Erickson
For The LOG 

Covering President Obama's visit

LOG reporter's perspective


Nancy Erickson | For The LOG

President Barack Obama and National Park Service interpreter Laura Sturtz discuss a receding Bear Glacier during his visit to Seward Sept. 1

I should have been at Sweet Darlings!

It was difficult to contain my excitement when I learned I would be part of the White House press pool during President Barack Obama's historic visit to Seward Sept. 1. The first sitting president to step foot north of the Arctic Circle during his visits to Kotzebue and Dillingham, Obama came to our majestic state to share his agenda on climate change and to observe first-hand it's effects.

But my assumptions as to how I would interact with the President far out-weighed reality.

During his time in Seward, the President was scheduled to hike the short trail to Exit Glacier, film a reality show clip with Bear Grylls and take a boat tour of Kenai Fjords National Park via Resurrection Bay. I was to join the latter stint.

With not much heads-up of the President's visit to Seward and wanting to be totally prepared for this terrific opportunity, I hurriedly purchased a digital recorder and practiced recording anyone who would humor me. I changed batteries in my camera and re-read the manual for taking optimum shots with sun glare on water. I laid awake nights composing intelligent questions to ask the President and of course, wondered what I should wear.

Our press corps instructions were to meet at the northeast boat launch at 2:30 p.m. and call a specified phone number which I assumed would get this show on the road. But local police and security had the road blocked at Port Avenue and despite my two pleas to be allowed access to the boat launch area, was told "they" would be coming for us. (Our tiny group consisted of two other local reporters and one from the Clarion plus two others.)

At approximately 3 p.m., Adam from the White House "advance site team" arrived to escort us to the boat launch surrounded by dump trucks parked end-to-end to secure the perimeter. Guarding the only entrance was another stern-looking man with wand in hand ready to make sure nothing passed by him that shouldn't. Camera and cell phones had to be turned on to prove they really were cameras and phones and our bags sniffed by a no-nonsense looking German Shepherd. Sensitivity was so high that my drivers' license set it off.

Several boats stood poised and ready in the harbor, shrouded by mystery as to just which one the President would be guided to. A Coast Guard zodiac containing men in black and a large gun mounted on the bow made several sweeps, appearing to enjoy its fast pace. An area on the concrete had been taped off indicating where the President would stand as he delivered a few remarks before heading to "the boat."

Of all the other boats, the M/V ViewFinder was parked most strategically and I was willing to bet money that would be the boat of choice, but no one would take me up on it. I work for the company who owns this vessel and crews had been polishing and scrubbing that boat for the last few weeks in preparation for a special secret charter. But rumor had it other boats in the harbor had the same assignment. Could it be the boat the President takes? Nah! He'll take the security of the Coast Guard cutter first.

After waiting for another hour, word came the President's motorcade was headed in our direction. They had taken a side trip from Exit Glacier and stopped downtown where throngs of people got to greet him as he visited a few stores, including purchasing gelato at Sweet Darlings.

Two White House press vans preceded the motorcade and similar to opening flood gates, out poured the big guns from the likes of NBC, Washington Post and New York Times carrying big cameras and sound equipment. My feeling of smugness having claimed the line directly in front of the President instantaneously evaporated on hearing the words, "Down in front."

The President exited his limo and with graceful strides, arrived at his designated spot and began speaking of our minimal supply of ice breakers compared to Russia. With cameras whizzing, I put forth my best effort to get some decent shots, gazing up at this famous visitor from my crouched position. Actually took a picture of his shoes as long as I was down there.

Then it was over and off he went to, yep, the ViewFinder. Noticeably green with envy of my fellow crew members, I and the press poolers were marched off to the next ramp to board the M/V Wildlander. Not a word exchanged between the President and the press.

We were told we would have three opportunities for photos of the President during our journey around Resurrection Bay. Sounded good but actually carrying that assignment out wasn't so easy.

My 5-foot 4-inch stature and little camera wasn't much of a match for those Washington D.C. big guys. By the time I had muscled my way to the boat railing, the captains were turning for better lighting or position. Plus, seas were pretty rough, making it even more difficult to take a picture of a bobbing ViewFinder from an equally gyrating Wildlander.

I managed to get one really good shot of the President while on the boat – of his back.

Back at the dock, the President paused for photos with the owner and port captain of the ViewFinder while the press was kept cordoned out of direct sight. Then as quickly as he arrived, he whisked away in his motorcade to the airport.

Following their departure, Adam with the advance site team was asked if they were also going back to Anchorage that night, to which he replied, "Wheels up! We're going to Thorn's," in reference to Air Force One being airborne and it's time to relax.

Nancy Erickson | For The LOG

Locals and visitors alike lined the breakwater to watch the President's flotilla depart the Seward boat harbor.

The excitement over, now it was time to head home and start perusing photos and my recorder and start complying my article that was due the following morning. My first melt-down occurred when I thought I had lost some of my recording. I hadn't – just operator error.

My second and final melt-down came when I tried to download my photos on to that sorry excuse for an operating system, Windows 8. Finally had to walk away, but then this realization began to seep into my being.

My biggest fear of being in this press pool was failing – messing up with the recorder and camera and interviews. And the biggest awakening: I've become too augered in with my routine life and avoid taking chances because of this fear.

Sure, I didn't get to ask the President my questions or have a conversation with him. But I had just experienced the opportunity of a lifetime and gained a valuable insight into myself.

Thank you, Mr. President.


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