Five Questions with Former Presidential Advance Directors: Kelly Gannon Russell, Greg Jenkins & Brian Montgomery

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Kevin Sullivan
Senior Advisor
George W. Bush Presidential Center

This month, “Five Questions With…” features excerpts from the highly entertaining January 18 BCA Regional Chapters Zoom Social with former Presidential Advance Directors Brian Montgomery, Kelley Gannon Russell and Greg Jenkins.

This month, “Five Questions With…” features excerpts from the highly entertaining January 18 BCA Regional Chapters Zoom Social with former Presidential Advance Directors Brian Montgomery, Kelley Gannon Russell and Greg Jenkins.  Thanks to Kim Fuller of the Southern California chapter and Roger Roscoe from the Tampa Bay chapter for organizing another terrific program. 

Q:  Brian, why don’t you give us your definition of advance?

Brian: Well, there’s obviously different categories, whether it’s a political, official, or an overseas trip. But if you worked on a campaign, especially if you’re doing a rally, going to a high school gymnasium, telling the principal, “I want your gym, your marching band, your cheerleaders, your parking lot. And I want it for three hours, and I need 10,000 people to fill it.” That’s on the campaign side. Now it’s 50,000 people. Advance is responsible for every event outside of the White House is probably the short answer.

Kelly:  I would say that every time the President leaves the 18 acres of the White House, there’s a group of people who go out ahead of him, anywhere from seven to 10 days, that are from the Secret Service, White House Communications, White House Military Office, Press Advance, Staff Advance and the Medical Office.  They would all go out and handle all the logistics for all the President’s movements, but also all the staff that travel with him and security, and the media. They’re the people who have to make the trip possible for the principal, whomever it is: President, First Lady, Vice President, Second Lady.

Q:  Greg, what was your most embarrassing moment on a trip?

All right. I’m going to admit this in front of, I don’t know how many hundreds of people are on this call. We were doing a site survey in…Nigeria. And we were in the presidential palace meeting with Nigerian officials. And we were all in rows of chairs…looking at the dais of Nigerian officials looking back at us. My lips were chapped, and I turned around and asked our advance team, “Does anybody have any chapstick?” And Denise Dunkel handed me what I assume she thought, and I certainly thought, was chapstick, which actually turned out to be lipstick. So, I dutily put on lipstick and turn right around and face the Nigerian officials. I’m sitting there in my Brooks Brothers looking very serious with red lips.

Q:  Brian, what was it like for you, when you walked back into the White House with 43? You’re one of the few people that would have known where the bathrooms were and knew where everything was. Emotionally, what was that like?

Well, it’s funny, as it became – despite the recount – more apparent that we were going to win, I found myself that year, in the few free moments we had, reading a lot about John Adams and John Quincy Adams, being a bit of a student of history. What happened had not happened in a long time, certainly not eight years, one after the other. But in fairness to all of us, when most of us left D.C. in January of 1993, did anybody think George W. Bush is going to be President of the United States in eight years?  I thought when I left here, “Well, that was a good run.” And there we were eight years later, right back where we were, except the roles are reversed. And by the way, I’d much prefer being the incoming, instead of the outgoing, especially when you lose.  As we all know, it’s the 31-day inaugural, because of the recount, and after the events of that day, we had an hour and a half to get ready to go to all the balls that night. And Kevin Moley and I, after Bush walked up that elevated platform, (and) went into the Oval Office, Kevin Moley and I went over to room 186 ½.  CARPET had put our tuxedos over there. I think we started changing, realizing, “Oh, hey, we’re just sitting here together…putting on our tuxedos just happy as can be, until I get over to the Diplomatic Reception Room and President Bush says, “Monty, what time are we getting back tonight?” I said, “Well, if we’re lucky around 12:30.” And he says, “I want to be back by 11.” And those of you who were working that night, remember me on the radio saying, “Be ready to recede any moment from here on for the next three hours.” But it was very moving. In fact, I get chills just thinking about that happening and being a part of it.

Q:  Brian, what are some really cool and special aspects about Air Force One that everybody might not know?

“Well, I’m a little partial to food, but I remember being on an overseas trip. And, you know, I really feel like a bacon-lettuce-tomato sandwich. Next thing, you know, it’s being delivered to you.  How did they know I even wanted one? But we had some fantastic memories onboard the plane. And some not so fantastic memories, certainly 9/11.  On a happier note, I remember we were coming back from Budapest. It was a last stop on a tour through Europe. As we all know, you sometimes fall asleep on those long trips. I woke up at the table there right over the wing and I’m the only one there. I thought, well that’s kind of weird that no one else is in here. Then I go to the section behind there where the guests are and that’s empty. I’m (thinking), well this is weird. I start walking to the front of the plane thinking it was like the Twilight Zone or something I can hear a lot of yelling – or what I thought was yelling – coming from the conference room. So, I crack open the door. And there’s probably 40 people in there, including the President and Mrs. Bush, Colin Powell, Condi Rice. I think Harriet (Miers) and Karen Hughes. I look up at what’s going on and they’re watching The Big Lebowski. I’m thinking, I’ve seen everything now. That was very surreal.

Q:  Kelly, what is your best memory?

This is very personal. It’s having my whole family meet both 41 and 43. Second would be Kennebunkport, June 1999 when 300 press people rolled into the compound for the W “non- announcement announcement” tour, which is what I ended up calling it. That was that was so fabulous. It really was incredible to watch that and be a part of it. Advance people are the backbone of making it happen when you’re the director. And when you’re the advance person, you love every stinking minute of it, until something goes wrong.