Marine One arrives in Eugene ahead of Obama

By Mark Baker | Umpqua Community College Shootings | |

At least two helicopters will be available to take the president to Roseburg for a planned Friday visit

Marine One is here.

At least that’s what it will be called when President Obama and his staff step aboard one of at least two Marine Corps helicopters that arrived at the Eugene Airport on Tuesday afternoon, carried here aboard Air Force cargo planes.

Jason Hunton, who works at SureCrop Farm Services on Milliron Road, not far from the Eugene Airport, captured several images of one of the green-and-white helicopters, emblazoned with “United States of America” and the U.S. flag, just before 5 p.m. Tuesday.

The helicopters are here to ferry Obama and others to Roseburg on Friday to meet with the families of the victims of the Oct. 1 shooting massacre at Umpqua Community College, as part of a four-day West Coast tour for the president.

Marine One is the call sign given to a Marine helicopter that carries the president and is part of Marine Helicopter Squadron One, or HMX-1, the Quantico, Va.-based Marine helicopter squadron responsible for transporting the president, the vice president, Cabinet members and other VIPs.

Obama is scheduled to land in Air Force One at the Eugene Airport at 11:40 a.m. Friday, then board Marine One and be in Roseburg 30 minutes later. Air Force One is scheduled to depart Eugene Airport at 2:45 p.m. after the president returns from Roseburg.

Obama is scheduled to attend a fundraising event later Friday in Seattle with U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, the Washington state Democrat. He’s also attending fundraisers in San Francisco and Los Angeles during the four-day visit.

Roseburg Regional Airport is not equipped to handle major airplanes such as Air Force One, the president’s usual flying craft, which is why he’s flying to Eugene from Washington, D.C., before boarding Marine One.

Cathryn Stephens, assistant airport director at the Eugene Airport, referred questions to a White House representative, who did not return a phone call or email seeking comment.

Two helicopters could be seen in the sky above Eugene on Wednesday, but it’s possible more than two are here, said Justin Rath, 48, of Eugene, a former Marine One pilot with the squadron, from 1999 to 2003.

A 1985 Thurston High School and 1991 Oregon State University graduate, Rath flew presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush during his four years with the squadron.

On Sept. 11, 2001, he flew Vice President Dick Cheney aboard Marine Two — the call sign when the VP is aboard — from the nation’s capital to safe quarters at Camp David, the presidential retreat in Maryland, after the terrorist attacks in New York City and Washington, D.C.

Rath now flies helicopters out of the Medford area for Portland-based Erickson Aviation, providing services to fight forest fires or for logging and construction operations. He said aspiring Marine Corps pilots with the requisite experience apply and are “hand-picked” for the squadron.

There are about five full-time pilots at any given time who serve four-year commitments with the squadron, Rath said.

“It was phenomenal,” he said, when asked what it was like to fly the leader of the free world from Point A to Point B. “It was probably the best job I had in my 20 years in the Marine Corps.

“To be able to fly the president of the United States around — it was just a dream job.”

The Marine One helicopter that will fly Obama to Roseburg is likely a VH-60 Black Hawk, Rath said.

An American president first boarded a Marine helicopter in 1957, when President Dwight Eisenhower boarded a much-less sleek version of today’s presidential helicopter squadron, according to a 2012 CBS News story.

“The first craft Eisenhower used wasn’t air-conditioned or carpeted and didn’t have an on-board bathroom — comforts now available on Marine One,” the story said. “But that first flight opened a new chapter in presidential travel.”

Obama’s visit to politically conservative Roseburg is being met with a tepid response by some who accuse him of politicizing a tragedy in the wake of his call for greater gun control laws in the hours after the latest mass shooting in the United States.

A Facebook group, “Defend Roseburg — Deny Barack Obama,” has popped up and listed three protests being organized in various places against his visit, all tentatively scheduled for 9 a.m. Friday.

At least one family of a student injured in the shooting says it has no interest in meeting with the president, according to a report by Fox 12 TV in Portland.

The family of Ana Boylan, the 18-year-old who was shot in the back during the rampage and released from Sacred Heart Medical Center at RiverBend in Springfield on Tuesday, told the TV station that Obama’s stance on gun control is one reason.

“I’ve spoken to my family, and for myself and for my daughter and son, on principle, I find that I am in disagreement with his policies on gun control, and therefore we will not be attending the visit,” said Boylan’s father, Stacy Boylan.

Follow Mark on Twitter @MarkBakerRG . Email .