On the stump with Joe Biden
By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on April 2, 2009 1:46 PM
Vice President Joe Biden places his arm around Allyn Dambeck, a physician at Goshen Medical Center.
Vice President Joe Biden pumps some iron in the weight room at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base during a tour before leaving via Air Force Two to return to D.C.
Just before 11 a.m., Air Force Two landed on the flight line at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base.
Looking at the aircraft as it came in for landing, it appeared no more impressive than one of the 916th Air Refueling Wing KC-135s that grace Wayne County skies daily.
But just before its wheels hit the runway -- a runway that will soon be revamped as part of more than $16 million in stimulus funds awarded to the base this year for various projects -- you could start to make out the words across the plane.
Those assembled knew that it would read "United States of America."
But that didn't make the sight of it any less powerful.
Moments after it touched down, Vice President Joe Biden emerged from a door and gave a wave before making his way down the stairs toward 4th Fighter Wing Commander Col. Mark Kelly.
Meanwhile, the rest of the passengers -- staff members, White House press and others -- hustled to their respective cars within the motorcade.
Within seconds, the vehicles were moving -- fast -- toward their first stop, Goshen Medical Center in Faison, for the first of the stimulus plan funding announcements.
There is nothing like traveling by presidential motorcade.
Nope -- compliments of dozens of State Highway Patrol motorcycles, Goldsboro police cars and members of the Wayne County Sheriff's Office -- not to mention the Secret Service.
A boring drive?
Not when your driver is trying to follow procedure, which in this case meant maintaining high speeds and keeping up, within mere feet, of the car in front.
And then there were the scenes unfolding along the roads -- a mother holding her baby and waving as each car drove by; men and women standing outside their respective businesses, hoping to catch a glimpse of their nation's vice president, state and local law enforcement blocking intersections.
Biden's message drew cheers from crowds in Faison and Pikeville.
But it was the more human side of the man -- the side men like Reagan, Clinton and George W. Bush sometimes revealed on the stump -- that brought him closer to the people to whom he was there to speak.
In Pikeville, he told a story about the volunteer firefighters who pulled his sons from the wreck that claimed the lives of his first wife and daughter.
He nearly choked up and lowered his tone, thanking them for their service and self-sacrifice.
During the same speech, he quipped that while he certainly congratulated the University of North Carolina men's basketball team on its Final-Four berth, his wife is a graduate of the school the Tar Heels face Saturday.
"Go Tar Heels unless they are playing Villanova. Now I got to tell you, I know it's politically incorrect to come to North Carolina and say you're for another team. If Villanova is out of it this round, no problem, I'm for North Carolina. If I had to bet, North Carolina wins," Biden said, drawing laughter from the 50 or so packed in the fire house. "But I can't bet against Villanova for a simple reason: I'll be sleeping alone. My wife graduated from Villanova. So you all are important, but I like sleeping with my wife."
But perhaps the most intriguing moment was when the motorcade returned to Seymour Johnson.
It was mid-afternoon and many 4th Fighter Wing airmen were completing the day's physical training.
But each one stopped and saluted when the limousine bearing the vice presidential seal passed.
And Biden, in a way, returned the favor.
He put off the trip home for another hour, stopping at the base fitness center to surprise some airmen -- and their family members.
He wanted to say thank you, to show his support for the men and women from the wing he knows will soon begin tours in Afghanistan and beyond, his aides said.
So from the middle of a crowd of children, he threw a basketball over his head and joined in when they laughed at his expense.
After all, their vice president didn't even hit the rim.
And when he moved on to the weight room, he did some curls and joked with a particular airman about lifting dumbbells that were "way too heavy."
After a quick tour of the base, the day was over and the vice president was on his way back to the White House -- and life in Wayne County went back to normal.
It was a whirlwind of sorts -- hours of preparation and pomp and circumstance for what would have been a short jaunt any other day.
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