During Thanksgiving weekend in 2003, President George W. Bush wanted to spend part of the holiday with active service members in Iraq.
It took an immense amount of planning by a very small, trusted group around the President to make sure Bush would make it back to the United States safely. The mission for Bush to secretly land in Iraq came just months after a joint coalition of nations, including the United States, overthrew the regime of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.
Making the covert trek to the Middle East has since been copied by President Barack Obama, and on Wednesday, President Donald Trump.
For Bush’s mission, it was not until after Air Force One was in the sky that the public was notified. Bush had to sneak out of his Crawford, Texas, ranch and fly to Washington, D.C. to get on Air Force One, which was disguised as a civilian jet.
As the plane neared Iraq, all the lights went out inside Air Force One, and the window shades were lowered.
At 5:30 p.m. Baghdad time, Air Force One had landed in Iraq. Bush had two and a half hours to meet with nearly 600 troops celebrating Thanksgiving before he had to be back in the air.
Bush told reporters that had any word of the visit leaked, he would have had to turn around.
"I was fully prepared to turn this baby around and come home," he said. "Three hours out, I checked with our Secret Service and checked with the people on the ground. They assured me that we still had a tight hold on the information."
On Wednesday, Trump made his first visit to a combat zone, meeting with troops in Iraq. Trump said from Baghdad he was concerned about the safety of those accompanying him to Iraq.
“I had concerns about the institution of the presidency,” Trump said. “Not for myself personally. I had concerns for the First Lady, I will tell you. But if you would have seen what we had to go through with the darkened plane with all windows closed with no lights on whatsoever, anywhere. Pitch black. I've never seen it- I've been on many airplanes. All types and shapes and sizes. I've never seen anything like it.”
Despite the secrecy that went into Trump’s voyage, there were rumors circulating on social media involving a possible Trump visit to the Middle East. While Bush’s visit did not have to content with rumors via Twitter, some on the social media platform reported sightings of Air Force One over Europe.
Now, I'm not saying Trump is currently heading to the Middle East to visit troops. BUT...
There's been some interesting aircraft movements the last couple of days. Some I've already tweeted... And a VC-25A has been reported over the UK earlier today.
Watch this space! 😌
— CivMilAir ✈🎅🎄🐈 (@CivMilAir) December 26, 2018
Air Force One spotted over England just a few hours ago under different callsign, left Andrews at midnight. pic.twitter.com/7kRin3NYmQ
— The Reagan Battalion (@ReaganBattalion) December 26, 2018
The rumors even reached the White House, prompting the pool reporter to note that there was not a Marine stationed outside of the West Wing.
Following Bush’s first visit to Iraq, he would return to the country three more times. He also visited Afghanistan once.
President Barack Obama made his first combat zone visit just three months after being inaugurated. Obama’s April 2009 visit to Iraq was his only as President, but made three separate journeys to Afghanistan.