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POTUS Polka In the Sky

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To Polka is to do a whole lotta fancy footwork. A new audit by the Government Accountability Office shows that the same is required when military and homeland security aircraft and personnel take the President of the United States (POTUS) out for business and pleasure. 

The audit covers a work/pleasure trip by President Obama from February 15-18, 2013. Obama traveled first to Chicago to make remarks at the Hyde Park Academy and discuss economic proposals he introduced at the State of the Union address three days earlier. From Chicago, Obama traveled to Palm Beach, Florida, where he golfed with Tiger Woods and others. 

Most news reports about Obama’s long weekend focus on the cost - $3.6 million split between the Department of Defense ($2.8 million) and Department of Homeland Security ($767,000) - more interesting to me was the shuffling of large aircraft and other assets required to make a trip like this happen. Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyoming, requested the audit.

The trip required 3 C-17s, 2 C-130s and a C-5 flying a total by my count of 26 legs and 15 airports throughout the eastern half of the country. The numbers don’t include the president’s VC-25A (Boeing 747-200B), aka Air Force One, nor Marine Helicopter Squadron One aircraft, an assortment of VH-3Ds, VH-60N and MV-22Bs that are airlifted to accompany POTUS “wherever and whenever he travels.”

Here’s the big picture, according to the GAO (click here for a link to the full report)

“The 89th Airlift Wing’s parent command, Air Mobility Command, provides aircraft to move cargo in support of presidential travel. Depending on the specifics of the trip, aircraft used could include the C-17 Globemaster, C- 5 Super Galaxy, and the C-130 Hercules; these aircraft would be used to transport helicopters, the Presidential limousine and other motorcade vehicles, and other necessary equipment. Air Mobility Command might also provide refueling aircraft such as the KC-10 Extender and the KC- 135 Stratotanker.”

“In addition to the Air Force, the Marine Corps provides assistance through Marine Helicopter Squadron One. The squadron provides helicopter lift and contingency support to the President wherever and whenever he travels, operating the VH-3D, the VH-60N, and the MV-22B aircraft. Aircraft are shown in the GAO picture below, with the exception that the CH-46E is now retired. 

For this particular presidential trip, GAO says “aircraft—including the C-17 Globemaster and the C-5 Super Galaxy—departed various U.S. Air Force bases and arrived at Joint Base Andrews or Marine Corps Base Quantico to transport Secret Service personnel and vehicles and Marine Corps personnel and helicopters to support the trip before returning to their air bases of origin.”

But wait, there’s more. 

For this trip, the Coast Guard, an arm of the Department of Homeland Security, spent $586,000 on RB-S boats and HH-65 Dolphin helicopters to “provide support in waterways.”

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