AFDW oversees movement of presidential records

  • Published
  • By Lt Col Brus Vidal

With every inauguration of a new American President, a key but generally unnoticed part of the presidential transition of power process is the movement of the outgoing president’s paper, records and artifacts.  This critical role is part of the Air Force District of Washington’s mission.

Airmen from AFDW, the 82nd Aerial Port Squadron, Travis AFB, CA., and the 618th Air Operations Center, Scott AFB, IL, as well as Soldiers from the 3rd Infantry Regiment are currently providing direct support to the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) to provide airlift and ground support in the transport of the Barack H. Obama presidential papers from NARA in Washington, D.C., to the temporary library facility at Hoffman Estates, Ill., until the Obama Presidential library is complete at the University of Chicago.

“We, along with the OSD Defense Support Program and Joint Forces Headquarters National Events Planning managers, have been collaborating with National Archives officials since August 2015 to develop a plan to stage and move the former President’s materials,” noted Mr. Ronald Malone, AFDW/A4 Chief of Transportation and Fuels Branch.  

To ensure uninterrupted support, AFDW nominated Lt. Col Vianesa Vargas to lead the movement effort as Chief of Joint Team Records.  According to her, “The recording of a President’s legacy began after President Franklin D. Roosevelt recognized a need to archive all presidential records so the American public would be able to research and study the legacy, history and actions that took place during any President’s time in office.” 

Vargas leads a team of approximately 70 joint service members, to include Sailors from Naval Air Station Great Lakes, Ill., to ensure the challenging logistical movement flows smoothly.  During the process, records, papers and artifacts are taken from the White House to be archived at NARA.  Once archived, the records and papers are itemized and logged, then are boxed crated for surface or air movement via trucks or aircraft.

The 11th Wing on JB Andrews also plays a major role in supporting the extensive operation. “The 11th Wing provided superb support to the mission by sourcing DoD approved ground carriers to transport material and by providing temporary storage and security on JB Andrews for material being airlifted to Illinois.  11th Wing Airmen also arranged for movement in Illinois,” observed Maj Melonie San Pietro, an Air Force Reservist assigned to HAF/A4, augmenting logistics activities during the inauguration.

For John Laster, director of the National Archives’ Presidential Materials Division, their support of the agency’s mission is essential. “The work done by the airmen, soldiers, and sailors to prepare and move the textual and audio/visual records as well as the gifts received from the public and heads of state from the White House to the Obama Library temporary site was and continues to be indispensable,” according to Laster.  “Without the dedication and hard work of the military it would be impossible to meet the tight deadlines for packing and shipping these important and historical materials.  Their professionalism has been unfailing and their expertise has been vital to the mission’s success.”

NARA is responsible for and manages all official presidential papers, records and archives that ultimately are located in a presidential library after a president leaves office.

The move process began in October 2016 and is expected to be completed at the end of March, Vargas said. 

Based on past moves, the team expects to move approximately 450,000 pounds of records by the time the mission is complete, including 35 million textual pages, 31,000 pieces of digital audio/visual media totaling 590 TB, and approximately 30,000 gifts via 16 long-haul trucks and one C-5 cargo plane, said Laster.

Some of the unique items among the artifacts moved include a globe given by Air Force One’s airlift team pinpointing the location of every trip made by President Obama.  Other items include surfboards signed by the members of America’s 2016 Olympic and Paralympic teams and a replica of a 12th century mechanical bird time piece given as a head of state gift from Qatar.  These unique artifacts exemplify the historical mission that is the movement of presidential records, papers and artifacts, a detail not lost on those who are charged with the distinctive and extremely important mission.

Vargas says that while many teams from the Joint Task Force-National Capital Region have completed their respective missions – she is extremely proud to be working behind the scenes with her team.

“Folks are constantly wondering why we are still hard at work—our mission started before the election, and won’t end until everything has moved.  We have a critically important but not well known mission.”

The Obama Presidential Center will be located on Chicago's South Side in Jackson Park, Chicago, Ill. A foundation is currently raising money to aid in the construction of the library, which could open as early as 2021.

When it's complete, the Center will include a library holding the Presidential archives, a museum focusing on the Obama Presidency and issues of our time, and space for ongoing programs and initiatives that advance our mission, according to the foundation’s website.

Col Keith Welch, Director Logistics, Engineering & Force Protection, AFDW, said he and the entire team are proud to play a critical role in this unique and infrequent process.

“It’s gratifying to know that we were involved in every aspect of this critical mission and our behind-the-scenes support transported important historical items to a place where they can be viewed by millions and inspire countless future leaders for years to come.”