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The North County graduate who flies with presidents

North County graduate Jacob Williams was the Marine standing at the bottom of the stairs of Marine One saluting President Barack Obama as Obama boarded the helicopter the first time.

Obama saluted back and then leaned in with a handshake, which is unusual protocol for a President. It drew praise and criticism on Internet blogs.

Marine Corporal Williams, who has been the crew chief for Marine One since September, admits he was caught off guard just a little bit. Obama asked what Williams’ name was and said it was an honor and he appreciated the service.

Williams, 23, appreciated the gesture. He said it really showed Obama’s human side and that he “has respect for what we do.”

“I believe he is a man for the military,” Williams said.

Footage of the President’s first flight is on several Web sites. The flight was from the White House to Andrews Air Force Base where Air Force One reportedly awaited for a flight to Williamsburg, Va.

Williams’ job as crew chief means wherever the president flies, he goes too. He’s the one saluting the president at the bottom of the stairs and the first Marine off the helicopter.

“They say the Crew Chief on Marine One is the most photographed Marine in the world,” said Williams in a previous interview.

It’s his job as chief to inspect every inch of the helicopter and see that any needed work is done.

When he enlisted in 2005, he didn’t sign up for this kind of work. He anticipated he would be going to Iraq.

He said the Corps invited him to the HMX-1 “Nighthawks” squadron after he had finished at the top of his class in schools that included basic aviator training, as well as survival training, flight school and school to learn how every inch of a helicopter works.

They sent Secret Service agents to Bonne Terre to interview his family, former teachers, friends and former employers. They found out whether he’d ever had so much as a speeding ticket. Everything from his past was examined as he was considered for top military clearance.

Before becoming crew chief for Marine One, he was a crew chief for the helicopters that fly the Secret Service and the media who cover the President.

His first day as crew chief for Marine One was Sept. 12. Consequently, his last flight with Bush was to Bush’s ranch for the holidays.

The new president

The first two weeks, Obama didn’t fly at all. But ever since his first flight, he’s been on the move a lot. “He’s keeping us busy,” Williams said, adding that Obama plans to visit 100 cities in 100 days. “It’s going to be interesting.”

He hopes to bring his parents, Billy and Darlene, to the White House to meet the President this winter. December marks the end of his five-year contract with the Marines and he will be coming home.

Getting out of the military and going home was kind of a tough decision but also a “no brainer.” He is looking forward to a slower-paced life where he can take float trips with his family.

He said he couldn’t be where he is without his family and the way he was raised. His parents admit they are extremely proud of him.

He also credits his teachers at North County for giving him a step in the right direction. He is thinking about going back to school to become a teacher. People can contact him by e-mail at

For more information about Marine One, a documentary about the HMX-1 Squadron has been made by Austin Smithard for Sikorsky Aircraft and Williams appears in it. A portion of the documentary may be viewed at:

Teresa Ressel is a reporter for the Daily Journal and can be reached at 573-431-2010, ext. 179 or at

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