Having escorted hundreds of world leaders visiting Ho Chi Minh City, a traffic police officers tells Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper about his experience escorting U.S. presidents.
Lieutenant Colonel Nguyen Van Hai, chief of Ho Chi Minh City’s patrol and escort police team, said that, of the hundreds of country leaders he has had the chance to escort in the city, the two U.S. presidents he’s had the opportunity to escort impressed him the most.
Hai is the longest serving member of his team, established in 1985 under Ho Chi Minh City Police’s Division of Road and Rail Traffic Police.
Hai’s resume includes escorting Bill Clinton and George W. Bush while they were serving in office as Presidents of the United States, as well as George H. W. Bush, who visited Vietnam unofficially in 1995 after serving his term in office.
According to Hai, whenever a foreign official visits Ho Chi Minh City, the municipal Department of External Relations picks one of two escort plans – plan A and plan B - depending on the visiting official’s office, diplomatic rank, and whether the visit is official or unofficial. Plan A is used for U.S. presidents, Hai said.
The escort team is comprised of 12 to 20 police motorcycles, and one to two lead police cars for the commanding officer.
Hai said escort officers driving alongside the president’s vehicle are prepared to die if necessary to protect the VIP in emergency cases.
“Being used to receiving senior leaders, all officers in the team are mentally prepared to sacrifice for the safety of the VIP,” Hai said firmly.
Hai recalled George W. Bush’s 2006 visit to Vietnam, the last time a U.S. president visited Ho Chi Minh City.
Bush’s Air Force One landed at Tan Son Nhat Airport in Ho Chi Minh City at 7:25 pm on November 19, 2006, after which the President, First Lady, and then-U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice were taken in two identical black Cadillac Ones to the city center.
The two blast-resistant presidential vehicles stuck together in order to switch places when necessary, and were followed closely by special bullet-proof vehicles.
Despite such measures for his protection, upon seeing a sea of people standing on both sides of the street waving to welcome him, President Bush asked the driver to turn on the lights inside his vehicle so that he could be seen waving back at the crowd.
Impression of a friendly president
“I personally like Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama since they represent a friendly and peaceful image of America,” Hai said when asked about his impression of the political leaders.
Hai said Bill Clinton, as a politician, put great effort in promoting the normalization of Vietnam-U.S. relations, while, on a personal level, he was friendly, well-mannered, and approachable.
Clinton casually shook hands and spoke with Vietnamese citizens while walking on the streets of Vietnam during his stay, Hai recalled.
As for Barack Obama, Hai said he admires the president for his intelligence, charisma, and friendliness.
Hai said Obama was a man with a great heart, as illustrated by the president’s recent efforts to accelerate measures to improve gun security in the U.S., following a series of tragic school shootings in the country in 2015.
“I was moved by the sight of Obama shedding tears while advocating gun control measures in response to school shootings that left so many children dead. Those tears were from the bottom of his heart,” Hai s.
Clinton’s bowl of Pho
Lieutenant Colonel Nguyen Van Hai recalled Bill Clinton’s last bowl of Pho during his November 2000 visit.
During his stay in Ho Chi Minh City, Clinton would walk every night from his hotel to Ben Thanh Market in the city center to eat Pho, a traditional Vietnamese noodle beef soup, at a nearby restaurant.
While on his way to the airport to leave Vietnam, Hai recalled, Clinton suddenly wanted to have one last bowl of Pho in the country, and the whole security convoy had to take another route to lead the President to a Pho restaurant.