September 3, 2019

‘Sharpshooters along the Routes, Everywhere’

By Michelle Obama

Cornelius was a square shouldered former college football player who’d previously worked as a part of President Bush’s security team. Like all of my detail leaders, he was smart, trained to be hyperaware at every moment, a human sensor. Even then, as the two of us watched Barack’s plane taxi and come to a stop maybe twenty yards away on the tarmac, he was picking on something before I did.

‘Ma’am, he said as some new piece of information arrived via the earpiece, ‘your life is about to change forever.’

When I looked at him quizzically, he added, “Just wait.”

He then pointed to the right, and I turned to look. Exactly on cue, something massive came around the corner; a snaking, vehicular army that included a phalanx of police cars and motorcycles, a number of black SUVs, two armoured limousines with American flags mounted on their hoods, a hazmat mitigation truck, a counterassault team riding with machine guns visible, an ambulance, a signals truck equipped to detect incoming projectiles, several passenger vans, and another group of police escorts. The presidential motorcade. It was at least twenty vehicles long, moving in orchestrated formation, car after car after car, before finally the whole fleet rolled to a quiet halt, and the limos stopped directly in front of Barack’s parked plane.

I turned to Cornelius. “Is there a clown car?” I said. “Seriously, this is what he’s going to travel with now?”

He smiled. “Every day for his entire presidency, yes,” he said. “It’s going to look like this all the time.”

I took in the spectacle: thousands and thousands of pounds of metal, a squad of commandos, bulletproof everything. I had yet to grasp that Barack’s protection was still only half-visible. I didn’t know that he’d also, at all times, have a nearby helicopter ready to evacuate him, that sharpshooters would position themselves on rooftops along the routes he travelled, that a personal physician would always be with him in case of a medical problem, or that the vehicle he rode in contained a store of blood of the appropriate type in case he ever needed a transfusion. In a matter of weeks, just ahead of Barack’s inauguration, the presidential limo would be upgraded to a new model-aptly named the Beast-a seven –ton tank disguised as a luxury vehicle, tricked out with hidden tear-gas canons, rupture-proof tires, and a sealed ventilation system meant to get him through a biological or chemical attack.

I was now married to one of the most heavily guarded human beings on earth. It was simultaneously relieving and distressing.

I looked to Cornelius, who waved me forward in the direction of the limo.

“You can head over now, ma’am,” he said.

Excerpted from Becoming, by Michelle Obama, Published in the United States in 2018 by Crown. Becoming is one of the main books up for discussion at the 2019 edition of the Lagos Book and Art Festival, November 4-10.

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