President Obama arrived on the Vineyard yesterday afternoon to begin a 10-day vacation with his family, marking his third consecutive August visit to the Island during his presidency. Like the last two years, the arrival was low-key and closed to the public. Traveling with the President were White House counterterrorism chief John Brennan and deputy press secretary John Earnest, White House trip director Marvin Nicholson, White House photographer Pete Souza, and the family dog, Bo, freshly groomed for the trip.
First Lady Michelle Obama and daughters Sasha and Malia arrived earlier in the day around 2 p.m., and were quickly whisked to the Blue Heron Farm in Chilmark where the family will spend their summer vacation. The Obamas are scheduled to stay on the Island until August 27. No public events are planned, although the President is expected to conduct sporadic press briefings.
Marine One touched down at the far end of the airport by the airport business park just before 6 p.m in the hazy August dusk. A few miles away, crowds lined the road from Alley’s General Store to the Chilmark estate to wave at the presidential motorcade as it sped past.
The motorcade, 15 cars long including an ambulance, two press vans and the presidential SUV, left the airport, traveled up Edgartown-West Tisbury Road and was secured at the property on South Road by 6:15. The family stayed in for their first night on the Island.
Mr. Obama left Andrews Air Force Base in Air Force One just before 4:30 p.m. In the press gaggle en route to Otis Air Force Base on Cape Cod, Mr. Earnest said the President was committed to working on economy policy and consulting with advisors throughout his vacation. Mr. Obama is set to give a speech on the economy and lay out a jobs plan after the Labor Day holiday.
Job creation remains the President’s top priority, Mr. Earnest said, but specifics of the plan are not expected to be released during the vacation. The next scheduled press briefing is Monday.
Violence in Gaza, leadership troubles in Syria and the state of the global markets were also discussed en route.
As for what he’d be doing during his time on the Vineyard, Mr. Earnest said the President’s activities would be similar to previous years: golf, ice cream and bike riding.
“This is an opportunity for the President to spend a little time away from the spotlight with his wife and two daughters, an opportunity for him to play golf, a hobby that he enjoys,” Mr. Earnest said.
Mr. Obama landed at Otis Air Force base at 5:25 p.m., an open arrival, and was met by Congressional Rep. Bill Keating, commanders from the Coast Guard, National Guard and Air Force, and an eager crowd.
Wearing a white shirt with the sleeves rolled up, no tie and dark khaki slacks, Mr. Obama jogged over to the group and held a baby in blue and red Boston Red Sox apparel.
“I don’t usually hang out with Red Sox fans,” he said.
Thirty minutes later Mr. Obama touched down on the Vineyard accompanied by two military escort helicopters. Two 400,000-pound carriers arrived Wednesday afternoon to unload equipment needed for the President’s stay.
Temporary flight restrictions are now in effect until Mr. Obama’s scheduled departure.
A group of about 50 people gathered at the far end of the airport in the hour leading up to his arrival, faces and cameras pressed against the fence. A beagle lay on the ground, collapsed in the heat and uninterested in the prospect of meeting the First Dog.
“Here he comes!” a mother said to her child.
“Obama!” a teenager yelled.
“Did you see the President?” whispered a toddler.
In the distance people climbed out of Marine One and into the awaiting motorcade. Joyce and Peter Graves stayed for the takeoff of the helicopters after the President and his party headed up-Island for the night.
“It’s very exciting,” Mrs. Graves said. “I’ve seen them over my house [in years past] but it’s great to see the whole thing.”
Mr. Graves had his camera at the ready, and recalled taking pictures of the President’s first tee-off at Farm Neck during his first visit to the Vineyard. Mr. Obama is expected to return to the course during his stay and Mr. Graves said that’s exactly where he needs to be.
“I hope he can relax,” he said. “When you’re on the course you put everything aside and concentrate on hitting the ball straight, which I think can be much harder than being President,” he said with a laugh.
While the President was still in the air en route to the Vineyard, a crowd gathered at Alley’s General Store in West Tisbury to wait for the motorcade to come by on the way to Blue Heron Farm. Scott Ryan and his son, Patrick, of West Caldwell, N.J., had been there before. “We’ve been here the last two years and wanted to see him again,” the elder Mr. Ryan said. He said he and his family happened to meet President Obama at both the Sweet Life Cafe and State Road restaurant. “Last year was so special, two nights in a row.” Mr. Ryan said. He also said that as much as he needed a vacation, he couldn’t imagine how much more Mr. Obama needed one.
The crowd picked up as the afternoon wore on, with people peering around the bend in the road and fingering the lens caps on their cameras. Nina Cappelen, visiting from Norway, was excited to see the President, even if it was just his motorcade. “Yesterday we saw on TV that he was coming and suddenly we’re in the middle of it,” she said. She was eager to show her support for the President, especially after his support for Norway after the attacks on July 22.
Raymond McClellan, who used to work for the government, stood by the side of the road outside the West Tisbury Library. “I like to see our government at work,” he said as the ordnance truck came through to check the area for bombs.
Minutes later the President’s motorcade drove by, as so many hundreds of cars do every day, and was gone before the cheers had a chance to die down.
Gazette reporter Nina Tarnawsky contributed to this story.