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Timeline of Bush's secret journey

Bush helps serve food to U.S. troops at Baghdad International Airport.
Bush helps serve food to U.S. troops at Baghdad International Airport.

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(CNN) -- President Bush's surprise trip to Baghdad had been under discussion for about five weeks, officials said.

According to White House communications director Dan Bartlett, Bush left his ranch in Crawford, Texas -- where it was reported he would spend the Thanksgiving holiday making calls to U.S. troops overseas -- in an unmarked vehicle in the early evening Wednesday.

"The president encountered and witnessed traffic for the first time in three years on the way to the airport," Bartlett said. The trip from the ranch to the Waco airport took 45 minutes.

• 7:27 p.m. CST Wednesday (8:27 p.m. EST): Air Force One is in the air. The trip is so secret that airport ground crew members think it is a maintenance flight and do not realize the president is aboard. Bush, wearing a work coat, baseball cap, jeans, boots and button-down shirt, had boarded at the back of the plane.

• 9:15 p.m. EST: Reporters aboard the plane are given a card with the presidential seal on it: "November 26, 2003. Our destination is: Andrews AFB, MD. Expected arrival time is: 10:35 p.m. Time change on this leg: Lose one hour. Flight altitude will be: 29,000 feet. Our speed will average: 665 mph. We will fly over: Texarkana, TX Charleston, WV. Destination weather forecast conditions: Cloudy. Current Temperature: 42 degrees."

Along for the ride are wire service writers from The Associated Press, Reuters and Bloomberg, a newspaper pool reporter, photographers from Associated Press, Reuters, Agence France Presse, Time magazine and Newsweek magazine, and a correspondent, producer and two-person crew from Fox News.

• 10:31 p.m. EST: Air Force One touches down at Andrews Air Force Base.

During the flight from Texas to Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland, where they will change planes, White House deputy chief of staff Joseph Hagin asks the journalists to remove the batteries from their cell phones so their movement cannot be tracked, and asks them not to turn on their cell phones when they arrive at Andrews.

He tells them they will receive new cell phones when they reach Baghdad.

Other journalists join the group at Andrews AFB, where they undergo a security sweep. They are told to put all of their cell phones, pagers and other small electronic devices into manila envelopes. Their bags, cameras and other equipment will be held in the belly of the plane until the flight took off.

• 10:45 p.m. EST: As reporters begin transferring to the plane that will take them to Baghdad, Bush is spotted. He motions to reporters with his thumb and pinkie and raises them to his ear, and mouths, "No calls, got it?" He emphasized the point by crossing his arms back and forth in front of him, made the "cut" sign across his throat, and mouthed again, "No calls."

• 11:06 p.m. EST: Air Force One takes off from Andrews AFB. The senior staff aboard are National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, White House chief of staff Andrew Card, Bartlett and Hagin. There are 13 members of the press aboard.

Once on board, Bartlett tells the journalists that if any news of the trip leaks out, the flight will be canceled. He also says that no reporting will be allowed until the president is on his way back to the United States.

"All this, to this point now, is still called a conditional trip," he warns. "If this breaks while we're in the air, we're turning around. That's why we've gone to the measures we have to ensure the safety and security of the president and those traveling with him."

Some of Air Force One's phones and communications equipment had been turned off to try to preserve the stealth mission, Bartlett says.

• 12:01 a.m. EST Thursday: Thanksgiving begins. Flight attendant offers cake. At some point during the flight Thursday morning, Bush gives the final go-ahead for the trip in a secure videoconference with Vice President Dick Cheney, Card and Rice, according to Bartlett.

• Approximately 8:30 a.m. EST: Reporters are given camouflage-colored ballistic vests and camouflage jackets and pants.

• 5:09 p.m. Baghdad time (9:09 a.m. EST): Cabin lights are turned off. Window shades are down.

• 5:31 p.m. (9:31 a.m. EST): Air Force One touches down at Baghdad International Airport. It is the first time a U.S. president has visited Iraq. The people on the ground at the airport do not know it is Air Force One landing.

In the Bob Hope Dining Facility about 600 members of the 1st Armored Division and the 82nd Airborne Division had gathered for Thanksgiving dinner. The soldiers are anticipating speeches by Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, coalition ground commander, and chief civilian administrator L. Paul Bremer. They are surprised when the president appears to deliver an address to the troops and Iraqi people. (Full story)

"I bring a message on behalf of America," the president says. "We thank you for your service, we're proud of you, and America stands solidly behind you." (Complete transcript)

Afterward, following Army tradition, Bush joins senior officers in serving Thanksgiving dinner to the troops. Many soldiers shake the president's hand

Bush later meets with four Iraqi Governing Council members and with Sanchez.

• 7:56 p.m. (11:56 a.m. EST): Reporters reboard Air Force One.

• 8 p.m. (noon EST): Air Force One leaves Baghdad.

On his way home, Bush tells reporters that he would not have made the trip if the press had not been able to accompany him, but he says he had been ready to cancel the journey if the story leaked and security was threatened.

"I was fully prepared to turn this baby around and come home," he says. "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."

Underscoring his reason for making the quick journey to Baghdad, the president says one soldier had approached him and said, "I'm so glad you came. Thanks for coming. It's important for us to know the people of America support us." (Full story)


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