SALT LAKE CITY — President Barack Obama crammed a lot into his brisk 15-hour stay in Utah.
And he picked a good day to talk about solar energy. Skies were blue and the sun shined brightly on rows of solar panels at Hill Air Force Base that provided the backdrop for his 8-minute speech Friday.
Local officials and military dignitaries seated on folding chairs in a field posed for selfies with each other and, later, after his remarks, with the president himself. A staffer handed out ice-cold bottled water, though coffee or hot chocolate might have been more appropriate on the chilly morning.
Dark-suited Secret Service agents kept a watchful eye on the small crowd and media horde, while snipers in military gear perched on high spots around the perimeter.
Obama concluded his trip to the Beehive State by saying, "I'm going to make sure that I come back next time where I don’t have to do so much work and I can visit some of these amazing national parks here, and have a chance to visit with some of the wonderful people here in the great state of Utah."
And just like that, the Secret Service whisked him to Air Force One where, indicative of his expeditious visit, he bounded up the steps — he bounded down on his arrival and even bounded to the podium for his speech — and was gone.
Obama can now check Utah off the list of states he has dropped in on during his presidency, leaving only South Dakota waiting for the presidential entourage to storm into town.
Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams knows what it's like to stage a commander in chief visit. He worked on the White House advance team during the Clinton administration.
"I'd say this was pretty typical. Any time the president is traveling to a location, there will be a central message, like we've seen today around solar energy and jobs," he said.
But McAdams, a Democrat, said it's uncommon for the president to stay overnight on those kinds of trips.
Obama appeared to make the most of his short time in the state, though the conversations with local political and religious leaders came in brief snippets.
McAdams had a minute or two on the tarmac at Hill to give the president his thoughts on Medicaid expansion.
"It's very quick and I don't know how much of it sinks in with the president," he said. "I know he had a good, quality meeting with the governor."
And that, too, was on the fly.
Obama let Gov. Gary Herbert hitch a ride with him in the presidential motorcade from Hill AFB to Salt Lake City so they could talk Medicaid, public lands and other issues.
Soon after arriving at the Sheraton Hotel late Thursday, the president sat down with four leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Obama expressed appreciation for the church's leadership role in seeking a balance between nondiscrimination and religious freedom, according to an LDS Church news release. They also talked about its humanitarian and disaster relief efforts in the 20-minute meeting.
Obama also met with Utah Democrats, including Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker who has been to the White House several times and invited Obama to Utah. Becker has turned the city into a renewable energy leader.
Obama then presumably turned in for the night inside the presidential suite at the downtown Sheraton hotel, which was barricaded by dozens of UTA buses and city dump trucks. Secret Service agents wandered the lobby, while Salt Lake police stood sentry at the doors.
On Friday morning, the president held a private roundtable discussion with public officials, Utah residents and veterans about renewable energy and solar industry jobs.
Harry Briesmaster, the Hill AFB civil engineer, participated in the discussion, telling Obama about alternative fuel programs, lighter aircraft and more efficient engines the Air Force is exploring to reduce energy demands.
A retired Air Force colonel, Briesmaster said he was honored and impressed to share his work and ideas with the president.
"I've been in this business for about 33 years and I've met quite a few four-stars and commanders and other perspectives that were out there, but to be able to speak to your commander in chief was an honor and a privilege," he said.
Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, juggled his schedule to welcome Obama to Utah and attend the roundtable and speech. Hill Air Force Base sits in his congressional district. He lamented that the president didn't spend more time learning how the base works and how federal appropriations make a difference in people's lives and the nation's defense.
"The White House seemed to have a very focused agenda on one issue," Bishop said. "There are so many other things that could have been done that I think would have been very profitable for him to be able to see and this is such a great base to illustrate it."
Asked what could be accomplished on such a whirlwind visit, Bishop said, "I don't know. Time will tell."
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