In a classic case of “you can’t believe everything you read,” Newsweek predicted President Donald Trump would spend his Thanksgiving golfing and tweeting. What really happened? The Commander in Chief flew to Afghanistan under cover of darkness to be a surprise guest at the Thanksgiving meal for troops at Bagram Air Field. So, who was more surprised? The troops or Newsweek?
Regardless of what your political leanings are, Americans can certainly agree the troops stationed in Afghanistan serving our country sacrifice a lot. Having their Commander in Chief make the effort to appear personally to express thanks for their service was undeniably a morale booster for them. I mean, President Trump could have spent his Thanksgiving merely playing golf, tweeting, and eating turkey at Mar-a-Lago. But no, he went out of his way to travel halfway around the world to serve turkey to our troops.
Lest you think that this trip was no big deal, let’s consider the facts. In the first place, President Trump’s Thanksgiving destination was further than over the river and through the woods to Grandma’s house. The round trip totaled 33 hours. Upon arrival in Afghanistan, the president advised he had traveled 8, 331 miles to get there to join the men and women stationed at Bagram. That’s a long way. Just imagine how many times someone on his plane could’ve asked “Are we there yet?”
Furthermore, this Thanksgiving trek was unannounced. It had to be kept under wraps and concealed from the president’s public schedule for security reasons. As a result, cloak and dagger moves were required. Trump flew to Mar-a-Lago on Tuesday where he would presumably, according to Newsweek, be golfing and tweeting. Nevertheless, Trump secretly flew out of Palm Beach back to Washington, D.C. Wednesday under cover of darkness leaving Air Force One behind. Apparently it was believed people would assume he was still in Florida if his plane was there. There is no word as to whether the president wore a trench coat for his great escape.
Awaiting his arrival in D.C. were thirteen clueless reporters and photographers assembled on the top floor of a parking garage. I say clueless because they had no idea of their destination. The group was transported to Andrews Air Force Base where they secretly (from other journalists and the public) boarded the hidden twin version of Air Force One which was stashed away in a large hangar. The plane took off at 9:45 p.m. on Wednesday night with the shades drawn and the running lights off.
Cell phones were confiscated from all those aboard the plane. Yes, even President Trump’s phone was taken from him. But wait! Weren’t tweets coming from his Twitter account during his flight? Why, yes, indeed they were. To cover his absence, the White House posted tweets from the president’s Twitter account while he was in the air.
President Trump and his entourage arrived in the darkness at Bagram just after 8:30 p.m. local time on Thursday, Thanksgiving Day. He was escorted around the base by heavily armed soldiers because, after all, the Commander in Chief was in a war zone. The President was put to work serving turkey to the troops, but he didn’t get time to eat any. He eventually got food for himself, but after taking a bite of mashed potatoes he was called to pose for photos leaving the turkey, cornbread, and remaining mashed potatoes on his plate uneaten. Eagle-eyed and likely hungry pool reporters revealed that ham, mac and cheese, and candied yams were also on the military’s holiday menu.
While at Bagram, the president fulfilled presidential duties. He met with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and announced that talks with the Taliban had been reopened. He also addressed some 1,500 troops who had gathered in an aircraft hangar to hear from their Commander in Chief. Apparently the president was too busy with these presidential duties to play golf while there. He also spent the holiday away from his wife, Melania, who did not accompany him.
The news embargo about the unannounced trip was lifted after the president had been at Bagram for about three hours and was getting ready to depart. The long trip back home was broken up by a stop at Ramstein Air Force Base in Germany where the president switched to the real Air Force One which had been flown in from Florida for him. (Does this mean there is an Air Force One A and an Air Force One B?) He returned to Mar-a-Lago where he was still able to work in some golf and tweets before returning to the White House.
President Trump’s trip to Afghanistan was not his first trip to a war zone. OK, well, an official war zone. Political skirmishes are ongoing in Washington, D.C. He and Melania traveled to Iraq to visit troops last Christmas. In choosing Bagram, the president went to the largest military base in Afghanistan, one occupied by the Afghan Armed Forces and U.S. forces. Bagram is the base of operations for most U.S. air activity in Afghanistan as it has a dual concrete runway capable of handling any size aircraft.
A military base in Afghanistan is not a cushy or particularly safe spot to spend a holiday or even a few hours on one. Bagram is located at a high altitude (4,895 feet above sea level to be exact) near the Hindu Kush mountain range. Temperatures can be extreme (translate below zero) and violence is always a threat (think suicide bombers and incoming mortars).
President Trump was beaming and smiling during his time at Bagram. Even assuming he had a great Thanksgiving there, he hopes he won’t have to return. He campaigned on a promise to get the U.S. out of “endless wars,” and the war in Afghanistan certainly qualifies for that designation. It is the longest war in U.S. history; American troops were first deployed to Afghanistan in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001. The war has spanned three presidential administrations and seen thousands of U.S. troops stationed there. Currently about 12,000 troops remain in Afghanistan, down from the 14,000 earlier in the year. That’s a lot of people to supply with a holiday meal!
Thanksgiving is now over, but the president’s trip provided reasons for giving further thanks. The troops in Bagram had a memorable holiday and were told how much they were appreciated even if they were far from home. American citizens were assured that if, God forbid, something happened to Air Force One, its twin is ready and able to take to the skies. The press got a feel good story to run for the holiday albeit pretty much after the fact. Not giving thanks, however, are a large number of turkeys who got the short end of the wishbone and gave their lives to feed Americans both at home and stationed abroad.
Are you surprised that President Trump was able to slip out of the country unnoticed? Is it safe for a sitting president to visit a war zone? Has someone you know been stationed in Afghanistan?