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Secret Service, locals team up successfully for Bush visit

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River Falls, 54022
Hudson Star Observer
715-386-9891 customer support
River Falls Wisconsin 2815 Prairie Drive / P.O. Box 25 54022

For the local administrators and law enforcement closest to all the action, President George Bush's visit last week to Hudson was the experience of a lifetime. According to Assistant Fire Chief Dan Roeglin, "It ranks right up there with getting married and having my kids."

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Roeglin first got word of the visit when Mayor Jack Breault stopped by his house Friday evening, Aug. 13. Roeglin is parks director for the city and his job was to work closely with the Secret Service to secure Lakefront Park where Bush was to speak. Meetings with the Secret Service began Saturday morning. The president's campaign staff and the agents would take care of constructing the stage and other areas within the park, but Roeglin and his staff would be responsible for setting up blockades around the park that would prevent anyone or anything from getting in except with a ticket or other authorization.

Roeglin said trucks and trailers provided by Valley Cartage were invaluable to the effort. "I can't say enough about Gerry and Todd and Harry Gilbert. They heard what we needed and made it happen. The Secret Service was really impressed with everybody here," said Roeglin. Roeglin gave similar praise to his staff who did whatever was necessary in the two and a half days they had to prepare. Even the lifeguards with no open beach to mind pitched in to make directional signs.

Roeglin admitted to being nervous when agents made the final security check of the park on Wednesday morning. There was an anxious moment when an agent driving a big SUV got through the perimeter near the boat launch. "I still don't know how he got through down there but we just pulled up a bobcat and we were good again."

Everyone on duty

While the Secret Service was clearly in charge, Hudson Police Chief Dick Trende said the agents were "more into cooperation than into giving a lot of orders." In a long meeting the Saturday morning before the visit, the agents requested that some HPD officers act as liaisons to work specifically with Secret Service agents on different areas of the security for the visit. Lt. Paul Larson took charge of the command center at the HPD. Sgt. Marty Jensen teamed with two agents on specific security concerns. Sgt. Bob Oehmke was in charge of the local security along the motorcade route once it reached the Hudson city limits and was assisted by Detective Shawn Pettee who monitored the intersections and side streets leading from Second Street to the park. Detective Jeff Knopps worked with the intelligence agents on the president's detail. "They didn't seem too concerned about anyone local causing a problem but they did want us to be aware of other possible threats from outside the area," said Knopps. The two officers on overnight patrol Wednesday stayed on following their shift to assist the rest of the HPD's officers with crowd control and security throughout the downtown area. "We had an impressive response from our officers, and everyone stepped up to the plate to do the job they were asked to," said Trende.

Two officers remained on patrol in the rest of Hudson during the visit. Trende said no incidents were reported during that time.

Larson said the job of local law enforcement during the visit was to provide a buffer zone around the area where the president was traveling and where he spoke. "And we provided a big one."

Working with Larson in the command center was Bob Klanderman of the St. Croix County Sheriff's Department and John Shiltz of the county's Emergency Response Unit. The ERU van was parked in the municipal lot adjacent to the police department. A bomb unit from Oneida County was also on hand. "Because there were so many agencies involved we couldn't use call signs so we used straight language," said Larson. "And things changed regularly depending on what was needed and where. Things were still being planned on Tuesday morning but they were really good people to work with. They asked for help and advice rather than telling us what to do or giving orders. It was a great learning experience seeing just how much effort it takes to move the president around," said Larson.

Most businesses along the motorcade route and in downtown Hudson cooperated and closed their driveways and parking lots as the president approached. Second Street was closed prior to the arrival of the president and again when he left town traveling down First Street to Commercial and then up Coulee Road to the 14th Street on-ramp to I-94. No one was allowed past Second Street to the park until after the president left the city.

In addition to the Secret Service agents visible all over downtown during the visit, Larson said there were more security people stationed out of sight all around the president, including two men armed with high-powered binoculars in plain sight atop a semi-trailer parked near the stage.

Trende said he was most impressed with the spontaneous nature of the event and how well everyone in his department and throughout the city responded. In addition to all the local people involved, a list of agencies from the surrounding area who also assisted is listed with this story. "Our people responded very well and took the responsibility for making this a good experience very personally. That, coupled with the willingness of other agencies to lend a hand, made for a very positive outcome."

Before leaving town Larson said the Secret Service agents he worked with were clearly appreciative of all the efforts made by local departments and the city. "They said they don't normally see the kind of response they got here. They said it was exceptional, and they were very impressed."

What it cost

The exact cost of the president's visit to Hudson will not be known until sometime next week, according to city administrator Devin Willi. Willi said payroll information including overtime and other expenses incurred in preparation for the visit is being compiled this week and will be made public when all the information is in.

"Once we have all the information, we'll let everybody know what it cost. We won't be hiding anything," said Mayor Breault. A full report to the city council will be made at its next meeting Aug. 30.

But regardless of the cost, Breault and Trende agree that they had no choice but to do whatever was necessary to make sure the visit came off without a hitch. Said Trende, "Regardless of where you stand politically, this was a visit from the president of the United States. It was a great honor to have him here and we did whatever was necessary to keep him, our own folks and everyone around him safe and secure."

Breault said watching "our people interface so successfully" with the Secret Service and the campaign workers was one of the best parts of the experience for him. "From the first day this all got started, there was the feeling that we were doing this together. Our folks were all at their best and impressed everyone. I am very proud of Hudson. This was a visit from the president of the United States, and we did honor to his office."

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Meg Heaton
Meg Heaton has been a reporter with the Hudson Star Observer since 1990. She has a bachelor’s degree in anthropology and Native American Studies from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire.
(715) 808-8604
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