George HW Bush

One week was all I had on the ground at Elmendorf Air Force Base in Anchorage Alaska in 1989 as the new Operation Officer (civilian equivalent deputy chief of police) of the Security Police (cops) Squadron when this happened. On my sixth day in the “Great White North” a US Secret Service agent walked into my office with a very large request for support.

  The Emperor of Japan had died and President George H.W. Bush was going to fly to Japan for the funeral.

  Back in those days Air Force One, the jet the President flew on was a Boeing 707 and it could not fly from Washington D.C. to Tokyo, Japan, without stopping en route to refuel. Anchorage was the stopping off point for lots of aircraft on the journey to the Pacific. 

 There was exactly one US Secret Service agent stationed in Alaska in 1989 and his primary job was combating counterfeit money and credit card fraud, so he really needed the help of the Air Force cops on Elmendorf AFB.

  I was so new, I had not even driven around the base to see what it looked like. My problem was the one star general who was the chief of police for the Air Force was not happy with the performance of the cop squadron at Elmendorf. That was the reason I had just been sent to Anchorage.

 The chief of police on Elmendorf was not a career cop, he was a navigator who did not have a plane to crew so they made him the top policeman on Elmendorf. The cop squadron was full of senior people who had been in Alaska way too long and thought hunting and fishing was the primary mission, and protecting the base came second.

  The issue was that the Emperor died on a weekend and on Friday afternoons at Elmendorf the senior leadership of the cops and the rest of the base went bowling; not to be bothered until Monday. It was amazing  that I could not find anyone to help

me figure out how to set up a plan of action to meet the needs of the Secret Service
  There was one exception, that was Staff Sergeant Sam Treat who walked up to me, told me he had a vehicle ready to drive me around the base and was prepared to help me put a plan together. So over the course of the weekend SSgt. Treat and I developed a strategy, which was a good thing, because on Monday, a senior White House secret service agent was waiting for me when I got to work that morning.
  President Bush's stopover in Air Force One, both going out to Japan and returning stateside a few days later went off without a security hitch. The senior agent handed out some White House appreciation trinkets to a few people, but for me it was a letter I got in the mail a couple of weeks later.

  I received a Presidential letter of appreciation from President George H.W. Bush, and as far as I can determine I was the only one on Elmendorf AFB who got a letter for supporting the President's visit.

   Truth of the matter is, it should not of had any real impact on my career, but it just so happened I was up for promotion to Major that year. It also happened that in 1989 the Air Force was trying out a brand new promotion process and to really ensure you got promoted you needed a recommendation of “definitely promote”.

  That Presidential letter of appreciation was sitting on the top of my personnel file when the promotion board met. I was the only non-pilot to be selected for Major (with a definitely promote) on my base that year.

  I would suggest, cause and effect was a player in my professional life. I had directed security for the President as he stopped at Elmendorf Air Force Base in Alaska, on his way to the funeral of Emperor Hirohito in Japan. I still believe that Hirohito should have been executed at the end of the war, but his belated death helped me get promoted and enabled me to finish a military career with a retirement. You see if you do not make Major you do not get to stay until retirement (cause and effect.)

  I have been retired from the Air Force for over twenty years and there is very little Air Force “I love me” stuff hanging on the walls in our civilian home, with one exception:

the Presidential letter of appreciation signed by President Bush (the elder) with a picture of me standing next to the President's vehicle is framed and hanging in my home.

  George H.W. Bush is the last President this country has had who was a combat veteran.

He was shot down in the Pacific and was the only member of his aircrew to survive the crash. If he had not been picked up by a US Navy sub he would have drifted onto a Japanese held island. On that island they actually killed and ate parts of American flyers who sadly had washed up on the shore. President and Navy combat veteran George H.W. Bush has died. He is owed a lot, to include my thanks to him.

I owe my thanks to Staff Sgt. Sam Treat for stepping up and helping his President and in the process making me look good back in 1989. Of course, I would like to thank President Bush for the letter, it made a major difference in my life. I am only sorry he could not have signed my retirement paperwork instead of his replacement.

Alaska, being the last frontier, has some very interesting laws about who can perform a wedding. I wound up being the marriage commissioner who conducted the marriage ceremony for Sam Treat and his bride, Chris, a couple of years later in Alaska. They are now retired senior Air Force NCOs and I thank both of them for their help and support during my tour in Alaska.

The former President is gone and to his family, “I am so sorry for your loss”.

 Major Van Harl USAF Ret

President George H.W. Bush; a Letter of Appreciation

 Major Van Harl USAF Ret
Major Van Harl
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