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National spotlight on Johnson City: Trump visit a spectacle behind the scenes

John Thompson • Updated Oct 2, 2018 at 12:01 AM

Most of the attention at President Trump’s visit to Johnson City on Monday was naturally focused on his appearance at Freedom Hall, but there was plenty of spectacle from Tri-Cities Airport, along Interstate 81, down Interstate 26 and along North Roan Street.

Security was as tight as normal for a presidential visit. Interstate highways were closed as the presidential motorcade encountered no traffic along those routes. The area of the airport around Tri-City Aviation was locked down one hour before Air Force One’s arrival.

Local police and Highway Patrol were positioned at every intersection to the airport, barring any movement toward the Tri-City Aviation without authorization.

Several local and regional reporters were present to watch Trump’s arrival. These reporters were screened at Tri-City Aviation and then taken out to the asphalt near the taxiway, where a flatbed trailer was staged to provide a platform for the press to observe the arrival of Air Force One.

As soon as the plane stopped in front of Tri-City Aviation, the press was shepherded under the left wing of Air Force One, where a clear view of Trump walking down the steps and being greeted by Gov. Bill Haslam was provided.

The press was then moved to an area where Trump supporters had gathered. The president talked with the crowd for several minutes. The press was then guided to their waiting vans, which would be a part of the president’s motorcade.

There were several men in black suits observing the activity. Many of these were Secret Service agents, but there were other federal, state and local officers also dressed in dark suits. Among these was former Unicoi County Sheriff Kent Harris, who escorted media in one of the large vans.

The motorcade quickly moved out, making a semicircle around Air Force One and then on to the airport exit.

The motorcade route was mostly along controlled access highways, which in this case was controlled no-access highways because law enforcement agencies shut down the ramps until the motorcade had passed, causing long lines of cars stopped on the highways.

There were several places where Trump supporters were also stopped and waiting to see Trump’s motorcade pass by.

Once the motorcade exited Interstate 26 onto North Roan Street, there were crowds lining much of the street. Most were waving and taking videos. Many carried pro-Trump signs.

Once at Freedom Hall, the press was escorted to an area on the floor called the bullpen. It was equipped with tables and electrical outlets for the reporters to write their stories. There was a stage behind the bullpen were several television cameras were stationed.

Among the many workers for the event were Lee and Lisa Morrow. Both have worked at Freedom Hall for years. Lisa has worked in ticketing and Lee was events manager from 1984 to 2002. Both were working as volunteers Monday.

Lisa said there had been 92,000 requests for tickets. Unlike most events at Freedom Hall, the Trump tickets were not distributed by the box office. She said the arena has a capacity of about 7,800 for festival seating, but the media bullpen took away some of the space.

Lisa said part of her job Monday meant she was with Secret Service agents for quite a while. She said that while they are serious about their work, she found them to be friendly and good natured.

Lee said he thought the way people were packed in, there were probably more than 8,000 in the arena.

Lee said he is a Trump supporter, but he would have volunteered to help whether it was a Republican or Democratic president. He said it was an honor to have a presidential visit to Johnson City.

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