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D.C. Notebook: Obama Accompanied By 'The Beast,' And 500 Traveling Companions

U.S. President Barack Obama walks up the stairs of Air Force One, which is equipped with everything from a mobile hospital to a gourmet kitchen. It can also protect the president against almost any threat, except, it would appear, the common cold.
WASHINGTON -- Barack Obama is halfway through his first trip to Europe as U.S. president and at least six of the hundreds of aides and officials accompanying him haven't been called on to do even a moment's work.

They're forgiven, of course, because that's actually a good thing. The emergency medical team of doctors and nurses who stand ready to spring into action if Obama needs them are probably only too happy to spend their time playing cards or tidying up their state-of-the art clinic aboard the presidential plane, Air Force One.

Meanwhile, the extremely fit U.S. president has sailed through a five-hour time-zone change and hours of intense meetings, press conferences, and official dinners with only a slight cold, which he said he has been "fighting all week."

In the middle of answering a reporter's question at his final London press conference, Obama paused to allow a dainty sneeze to escape, and then went back to discussing why the free market system must have mechanisms in place to hold business leaders accountable.

By every account, he and his wife, Michelle's, first three days in Europe have been a huge success, and that was true even before the G-20 meeting ended on a high note of agreement.

Nothing To Chance

But the golden couple can't take all the credit for the smooth performance. A good part of it is due to the more than 500 White House officials and staff that are traveling with them on their trip, which on April 3 saw them arrive in Strasbourg, France. From there, it's on to Prague, and finally to Turkey.

The presidential limousine is known as "The Beast."
Two hundred of those are members of the Secret Service, who form an impenetrable security detail around the president, no matter where he is. In the last 30 years, three U.S. presidents have been attacked in public, and the American head of state is arguably more of a target these days than ever before. Obama's security detail leaves nothing to chance.

In addition to defenses that allow it to withstand a nuclear blast from the ground, everything Obama needs to run the country and command the U.S. military is on his plane, Air Force One. It can also keep Obama running, with its gourmet kitchen staffed by White House chefs and a full gym for the workouts he never misses.

For travel through the streets of London, Strasbourg, Prague, and Istanbul, Obama has a motorcade -- an impressive parade of flashing lights, sirens, motorcycles, rugged black SUVs with tinted windows, and perhaps the most awe-inspiring presidential vehicle ever constructed.

"The Beast," as Obama's personal limousine has been nicknamed, is covered in steel armor and constructed of titanium. It has a night-vision camera, a gas tank that won't explode even if it takes a direct hit, and a sealed interior that can protect its inhabitants from a chemical attack.

'The Beast'

"The Beast" could star in its own James Bond movie. As it speeds along, the occupants can operate exterior machine guns and tear-gas cannons, and its tires will stay inflated if punctured. It even contains a supply of Obama's specific blood type, and bottled oxygen, in case he is injured.

For distances too short for Air Force One but too long to go by car, there's Obama's helicopter, known as Marine One. Look up as it passes overhead and you might be confused. The president always travels in a fleet of three to avoid becoming a target. If the worst should happen, the helicopters have flares to confuse heat-seeking missiles.

There's more.

Tasters who make sure his food isn't poisoned; scientists who measure air quality for dangerous bacteria; and technicians who sweep for electronic listening devices. Everyone traveling with the president contributes in some way to his safety or his schedule.

More than 500 aides might seem like an awful lot, but consider that Obama's predecessor, George W. Bush, traveled to Europe in 2003 with 700 people, and Bill Clinton brought 1,000 aides with him on a visit to Vietnam in 2000.

Then again, this is only Obama's first overseas trip.