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10 Things That Always Travel With the President of the United States

In many ways, the President of the United States of America lives in a gilded cage. His home is a ceremonial residence, and he usually only leaves it on official business. When he does go, it’s virtually always inside of a cordon of Secret Service agents and various support staff to make his trip productive and safe. He has several aircraft at his disposal, as well as a fleet of vehicles and a lot of supplies, travel with him everywhere he goes. It is inevitable that in this small army of personnel, and with this minor caravan of supplies, some strange and unexpected items should find their way into the President’s must-have list. These are some of the things the President, any President of the United States of America, just cannot be without when he travels.

1. A Football

The Nuclear Football
A retired ‘Football’ display at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History

Or rather, the Football. This is the locked black briefcase with the launch codes to the entire US nuclear arsenal inside of it. It travels in the hand of a military officer (the services rotate this duty) who is handcuffed to the handle. In a grisly detail, the locking system is engineered so that it’s more difficult to crack open than it is to separate the bearer’s hand from his arm. The Nuclear Football has to be within shouting distance of the President every second of his term because a sudden nuclear strike could theoretically happen at any time. If it does, and the President decides it’s worth ending the world over, he will call for the Football, open it with a combination known only to him, connect with a secure satellite link, and feed the codes to officers managing the nation’s nuclear arsenal.

2. Several Pints of Blood

Pints of blood

Speaking of worst-case scenarios, the President of the United States of America also travels everywhere with several pints of blood stashed in various spots in his vehicles. The blood is always an exact match for him, and sometimes it might be his own blood, just in case. The idea is that in the event the President gets shot or suffers an especially bad paper cut while signing a bill into law, nobody will have to hunt around for blood to transfuse in the emergency. Instead, the President can be put into life-saving treatment for blood loss just seconds after an injury.

3. A Secure Tent

Presidential tent
Credit: Pete Souza/White House

The President’s conversations are sensitive affairs of state. More than once, Presidents have deflected even legal subpoenas by citing “Executive Privilege,” the legal theory that the things people say to the President are automatically classified and cannot reasonably be forced onto the record. Of course, foreign governments feel no compunction about spying on the President, which is why he carries a secure tent with him on every foreign (and some domestic) trip. This tent is just about the size of a tent used for camping, except it has sealed soundproof walls and noisemakers inside to scramble listening devices. When the President needs to hear something sensitive, but he’s in the Presidential suite at a different hotel, he and his advisor step into the room adjacent to where he’s staying and slipping into the portable privacy of the tent.

4. Members of the Media

Members of the Media
Credit: ABC News

Almost every minute the President spends outside of a secure location, such as the White House or Camp David, he’s either on camera or in the presence of reporters. Officially, this is because he’s a public servant and the public has a right to know everything that he does. Less officially, the media likes to keep a camera on the President in case he lets slip a racial slur or gets shot or something. Even less officially, but probably more importantly, the press pool gets ferried around with the President, on his own transportation, because it’s safer that way. Making the reporters book their trips on commercial airlines, as satisfying as that snub might be, requires letting media outlets know in advance where the President plans to go weeks in advance, which in some cases would be an unacceptable security breach.

5. An Elevator Manifest

A lot of people travel with the President of the United States of America, and they’re watched every step of the way. Reporters, lobbyists, bureaucrats, and the myriad other people who have business with the President are mostly free to go where they like when they’re on their own time, but when they get close to the President, every step is planned and monitored by security. Part of this control is an “elevator manifest,” listing to the last man who is allowed to ride in an elevator with the President. Unauthorized persons are forced to either take the stairs or wait for the next one. Even authorized people must be screened before getting too close. Despite this caution, on September 16, 2014, a private contractor for the Centers for Disease Control, of all things, got onto a freight elevator with President Obama’s entourage without permission. Nobody seems to have noticed, except that the man kept taking pictures of Obama despite being ordered to stop. When searched, the man was found to have a gun on him. In response to this breach and a few other issues, Secret Service Director Julia Pierson resigned from her post.

6. A Tank

U.S. Presidential Limousine Tank

Well, not technically a tank, but the “limousine” the President rides in weighs around 15,000 pounds and has at least 8 inches of military-grade armor plate on its sides. Inside the rear compartment is an airtightly sealed environment that can survive chemical attacks, and the front grill has a camera mounted inside it that feeds to a dashboard monitor so that the driver – fresh from a week-long defensive driving course – can navigate after the windshield gets hit with a rocket. The 12 armored vehicles in the President’s fleet used to be off-the-rack Cadillacs, but those had so much aftermarket machinery added that the brakes wore out after two trips and the shocks kept failing. The newer models have Cadillac emblems, but they’re custom-built from scratch and travel inside Air Force One’s cargo hold wherever he goes.

7. An Arsenal of Grenades

Arsenal of Grenades

These are speculation, as the Secret Service plays coy with exact details of the President’s arsenal. It’s a reasonably likely bet, however, that the Presidential limousines have rear-mounted grenade dispensers that can eject flashbang, smoke, and high-explosive grenades in the event of a riot or ambush. Such add-ons are standard kit for other VIPs, as well as for embassy vehicles around the world. If the system is any good, it stands to reason that the President’s detail found a way to sneak them into his cars too. The launcher is controlled by a key mounted under the dashboard up front. That has led to problems in the past; rumor has it that a driver at the US embassy in Paraguay once accidentally turned that key to start the car… and instead dropped a shock grenade in an underground parking garage.

8. A Caravan of Other Vehicles

vehicles in the President's motorcade
Credit: Getty/Leigh Vogel

Heavily armored, grenade-launching cars aren’t the only vehicles in the President’s motorcade. When the President flies, as many as a dozen custom vehicles fly with him. On the ground, he is joined on domestic trips by local police personnel who can clear the road for him and keep the motorcade rolling. He also gets this courtesy from friendly foreign countries. In potentially hostile or dangerous places, the President’s convoy is made up entirely of US government vehicles, including a mobile intensive care unit and an SUV packed with automatic weapons, and it may stretch out for more than a mile on the freeway. In all this traffic, the President rides in a randomly selected limousine that’s externally identical to several other vehicles in convoy.

9. A Doctor

The Physician to the President

One of the key members of the President’s entourage, and an individual who rarely gets noticed because he’s expected to fade into the background is a fully licensed doctor with a specialty in treating trauma. Typically, a mobile intensive care unit is staffed with a paramedic and a nurse with specialized training, but the nation’s chief executive also has a practitioner-level expert who can even perform emergency field surgery if it ever becomes necessary.

10. A Stack of Cash

stack of cash

As a rule, it’s up to the President to decide for himself whether or not he’ll bother carrying a wallet or cash. Members of the President’s detail always have money and credit cards, of course, but sometimes the President opts to pick up the tab for something himself. Occasionally this has awkward consequences; in 1999, President Clinton’s credit card was declined during a ski vacation in Utah. President Obama suffered a similar indignity during his term, though it was later established that the rejection was not due to an overdrawn account, but to a fraud alert resulting from the unusual activity. In answer to this, the President usually travels with a large amount of cash, often a couple of thousand dollars, and can even pick up the restaurant tab of his whole entourage if necessary, which President Obama did at least once, for around $300.

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