Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Weekend Meeting at Camp David

Memo inviting staff to Camp David

June 1975, White House Press Secretary Ron Nessen held a weekend planning session at Camp David. The "Press Office Improvement Meeting" agenda included a discussion of ways to improve daily press briefings, the long range plans for the press office, and a review of operations. The invited staff members received an information packet about Camp David which included maps, cabin information, and activities. These documents were scanned and archived in the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library.

Driving directions to Camp David from the Washington DC area

Camp David map - Guest cabins and recreational facilities

Information about Camp David included in the staff memo (Transcribed below)


Communications - All Camp David telephones are served directly by a switchboard which is manned twenty-four hours a day. The operator will assist you in placing any calls. Direct lines to Washington and the White House are available.

Medical Assistance - A military hospital corpsman is on duty at all times to render first aid assistance. He is not a physician but is well qualified to provide emergency treatment or minor medication or assistance.

Transportation - Should you desire transportation or directions on Camp, in the local area, or to Washington, we can assist you.

Family Cribs - Cribs, strollers, high chairs, hair dryers, irons and ironing boards are available from Chestnut.

Food Service - Stewards in Aspen Lodge and Laurel Lodge are available for food or refreshments. Refreshments can be provided in the cabins upon request. Bills will be forwarded to you by the White House Staff Mess.

Mail Service - Letters and packages can be mailed for you. Stamps are available in the Camp Office.

Photographs - For security reasons, photographs are not allowed on the Camp. The use of cameras must be cleared with the White House.

Babysitters - Babysitter service is not available at the Camp. Parents are requested to provide supervision of children at all times. Occasionally it is possible to arrange for teenagers in the area to care for smaller children in the cabins.

Parental Supervision - Parents are requested to assist us by supervising children at all times. The pinsetters, golf carts, snowmobiles, swimming pools, and other recreation equipment can be hazardous and require supervision by a person 16 years of age or older.

Weather - The Camp's elevation, nearly 2000 feet, causes weather conditions which are often completely different than the Baltimore- Washington area. Temperatures are normally 10-15 degrees colder year round. Snow and ice are common in the Winter and often cause hazardous driving conditions.


The following recreation facilities are available in season for guest use. Should you desire to use these facilities, please call Chestnut.

Movies - A complete list of motion pictures is included in this book. Qualified operators are available to show movies in Aspen, Laurel, and Holly.

Bowling - Two bowling alleys with automatic pinsetters are located in Hickory Lodge, the Camp recreation building. Balls, shoes, and socks are provided at the alley. For safety reasons, children under 16 must be supervised.

Swimming Pool - There are two pools on Camp - the Aspen Pool is located to the front of the Presidential Lodge at Aspen and the Staff Pool is located in the northwestern part of the Camp, behind the water tower. Bath houses are located adjacent at each pool. A sauna is located in the Aspen bath house. Both pools are heated and in use from early May to October. Swim fins and masks and a limited number of bathing suits are available. As lifeguards are not available, parental supervision is requested when children use the pools.

Skeet - A skeet range is available on Camp. Shot guns and ammunitions and qualified personnel are available. One-half hour notice is requested to properly set-up the equipment.

Tennis Courts - Two tennis courts are available. Shoes, rackets, and balls are provided at the courts.

Trampoline - A ground level mounted trampoline is located adjacent to the Staff Swimming Pool.
Golf - A golf green with three tees is located in front of the Aspen Lodge. Clubs and balls are available.

Snowmobiles - Two snowmobiles are available at the Field House. Guests are requested to restrict use to the Field House area for safety and noise. Safety helmets are provided. To safely operate snowmobiles, the operator- must be at least 16 years of age. Guests are requested to maintain moderate speeds. Instructions on proper use and operation are available from Chestnut.

Sleds and Toboggans - Sleds, toboggans, and sliding disks are available.

Skiing - The Charnita Ski Slope just north of Emmitsburg, Maryland about thirty minutes distant. The season is from 1 December to 15 March.  Rope tows, chair lifts, instructions, and rentals are available. For further information or transportation, contact Chestnut.

Pool Tables - Pool tables are located in the Hickory Lodge and Holly. Cues and balls are available.

Bicycles - Bicycles are provided at Aspen and Laurel Lodges for the guests.

Golf Carts - Two electric golf carts are available for guest use within the Camp. To safely operate golf carts, the operator must be at least 16 years of age.

Archery - An archery range can be set up near the Field House
on request. Bows, arrows, and targets are available.

Playground - A playground is located between Aspen and Laurel. In addition to playground equipment, an outdoor badminton court, horseshoes, and croquet are located at the playground.

Shuffleboard - Outdoor shuffleboard courts are located adjacent to the Staff Pool.

Indoor Games - An assortment of indoor adult and children games such as Chess, Checkers, Pinochle, Scrabble, Puzzles, etc., are available and may be obtained from the stewards or by calling Chestnut. Bridge cards are available at Aspen and Laurel.

Hiking - Hiking within Camp David is encouraged. Hiking trails and nature trails are also available in the Catoctin Mountain Park. Park Rangers are available for guided tours of historical landmarks and nature trails.


Presidential Lodge

The Presidential Lodge was constructed on its present site in 1942. The Lodge was modeled after a sketch prepared by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. During President Eisenhower's second term in office, the Lodge was remodeled and named Aspen. Aspen Lodge is reserved exclusively for the President and First Family.

Guest Cabins

Aspen Area:

In the immediate vicinity of Aspen Lodge are four guest cabins with facilities as follows:
  • Dogwood which has two double bedrooms and a living room
  • Birch which has two double bedrooms and a living room
  • Witch Hazel which has two double bedrooms
  • Maple which has two double bedrooms and a sitting room

Laurel Area:

Laurel Lodge is located just north of Aspen and contains an office for the President, a dining room and two lounge areas. Laurel is used for guest dining, movies and to accommodate conferences. Surrounding Laurel are several guest cabins:

  • Linden which has a small combination double bedroom/lounge
  • Walnut which has two double bedroom and a small lounge
  • Hawthorn which has a double bedroom and a lounge equipped with fold down beds for conversion into a second bedroom
  • Sycamore which has a double bedroom and a lounge equipped with fold down beds for conversion into a second bedroom
  • Hemlock which has a small combination double bedroom/lounge
  • Red Oak which has two bedrooms, living room, and a kitchenette (under construction).


Southwest of the Aspen Lodge is the cabin Rosebud. This cabin contains two double bedrooms and a living room.

The original documents shown above can be found here.  The documents also contain notes from the meeting which are pretty entertaining if you are interested in the subject matter: 
"By starting the press conference at 10:30 AM, you'll find that most reporters are even less prepared than they are at 11:30".
"Networks must understand in advance that while the entire briefing may be taped, nothing could be aired without the express permission of the Press Secretary. This would have to be an iron-clad agreement because there will be times when the nets really want to air something
that makes the White House look like it is run by bumbling amateurs, and they will have to accept our decision without a lot of argument."

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Working at Camp David

Camp David is an active Navy base staffed by Navy and Marine personnel. It is officially known as Naval Support Facility (NSF) Thurmont. A recruiting team from Camp David travels to various Naval facilities to identify sailors for assignment to the presidential retreat. The recruiting team screens and interviews personnel who meet their qualification criteria. They review performance evaluations to find individuals who have demonstrated consistently high standards of character, discretion, loyalty, and performance.

Selectees undergo a single scope background investigation to determine if they are eligible for a Top Secret Sensitive Compartmentalized Information (TS/SCI) Yankee White (YW) clearance. All personnel assigned to duty in Presidential support activities are required to have a "Yankee White" clearance.

The tour length is 36 months. Below is a list of occupation fields related to Navy service at Camp David:

Source: MILPERSMAN 1306-968

Camp David Commander Russell Rang meets with NSF Thurmont Sailors in the Hackberry Hangar in 2015

The U.S. Navy Seabee magazine reported on duty station opportunities at Camp David in 2010. Below is the Professional Development page from that issue:

A 2003 article from the Navy Supply Corps Newsletter describes some of the jobs available at Camp David for members of the Supply Team:
"Our supply team consists of mess management specialists, storekeepers, and ship’s serviceman, all of which envision and strive to meet our mission of service to the President.
Mess management specialists serve in multiple capacities ranging from preparing galley meal service for our crew to providing five star services to the President, First Lady, and their guests at the Laurel Conference Center. Additionally, as a member of our Guest Operations staff, you will assist in providing world class services through operation of 13 guest cabins, 2 conference centers, 12 VIP suites and the Mountain Top Café.
Storekeepers serve as night club managers during presidential visits in Hickory, which serves as the President’s all hands club, and supervise the movie theater and bowling alley. Ship’s servicemen are responsible for the management of Shangri-La all hands club and game room. They perform their same shipboard functions operating vending services and the ship’s store located in Hickory, which average annual sales in excess of $400,000.  Additionally, they supervise the daily operations of the Morale, Welfare, and Recreation Division, barber shop, mail order catalog business, and video arcade."

Read the  Newsletter

Sailors stationed at Camp David

Camp David Recruiting Video

Sources:  George W. Bush Presidential Library;  MILPERSMAN 1306-968; SECNAV Instruction 5312.12C; Seabee - Summer 2010; Navy Supply Corps Newsletter; U.S. Navy

Monday, May 20, 2013

Camp David G8 Summit Gift

In a touching ceremony, President Obama presents his special commemorative gift to the G8 Leaders at Camp David


Camp David is seldom in the news, which is why most of the posts on this blog are about things that happened many years ago. So when it was announced last year that the 2012 G8 Summit was moving from Chicago to Camp David, I decided I would cover it in glorious detail.  And no detail would be too small as far as I was concerned.

I wrote about the many preparations in nearby Thurmont along with planned protests and security measures. I tracked down photos of the trailers used to temporarily hold the arriving G8 Leaders at Dulles airport. I found photos of the media center and the media bus. I reported on what the leaders did in their spare time and the spouses' luncheon and tour at the White House. I wrote about the leaders and their various meetings. I embedded videos of the summit and created a separate blog post for all of the photos I found on U.S. and foreign websites.

Even after National Security Adviser Tom Donilon jokingly declared that the cabin allocation system for the G8 Leaders was classified, I was able to figure it out after several months of effort.


It is customary for the host leader to present the other G8 leaders with a commemorative gift at the end of the summit. When the summit was originally scheduled to be held in Chicago, local company R.S. Owens proudly announced they were chosen to create a commemorative gift representing a famous Chicago landmark.

Did President Obama end up giving the leaders the Chicago-themed gift or did he go with the more traditional Camp David jacket?  I just had to find out. When CBS reporter Peter Maer tweeted the following, I figured my answer was only moments away:

I waited patiently. And waited. And after six and a half hours, I could wait no more:

NOTHING!  No reply from @petermaercbs. No follow-up tweet about the parting gifts. I even tried again one year later on May 11th, 2013:

Still, no reply. I tried asking other reporters who were covering the story. I tried asking the White House photographer for a photo of the gift-giving. I even tried asking Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev about the gift. Nyet.

 A couple weeks after the G8 Summit, I submitted a simple FOIA request with the State Department asking what the G8 gift was. I figured it would take only a quick phone call to the State Department's G8 Summit "Visit Officer" to get the answer. But no answer came. Below is a chart of the average response time for FOIA requests to the State Department in 2012, courtesy of FOIA.gov.

By all accounts, I should have received an answer by the end of last summer. I have followed up with the State Department several times since then asking about the status. Their replies:

December 2012"The case is still open. The case has been assigned to an analyst and searches have gone out to the appropriate bureaus."

March 2013"We apologize for the delay in responding to your request.  The State Department’s Freedom of Information Office is experiencing a backlog of requests and a delay in responding to FOIA requests.  A copy of your request has been forwarded to the appropriate office for status.  Information will be provided as it becomes available.  We appreciate your continued patience during this process."

May 2013:  "The Department’s search of its Central Foreign Records resulted in a no document find pertaining to your request for material in the subject case.  There is still pending a request for documents within the Department.  Once this office is in receipt of a response, you will be informed of the results."

August 2013:  "The search for records from the Department’s Central Foreign Policy files resulted in a no relevant document find.  The request for records from the Protocol Office is still pending. The estimated completion date is December 2013.   I hope this information is of assistance to you."

September 2013: Received a document from the Office of Protocol describing the G8 gift
"American-made black leather jacket featuring the Camp David seal given on the occasion of the G8 Summit in May 2012." 
FOIA Response from the State Department Office of Protocol - Sept 3, 2013

Unfortunately, the above photo of the jacket doesn't exactly do it justice... I wrote a post about Camp David jackets that show many different styles over the years. There is a photo in that post of a brown leather jacket that President George W. Bush gave to British Prime Minister Gordon Brown.

Earlier this year, I asked White House photographer Pete Souza for a photo of President Obama giving  the G8 Leaders their parting gift, but never received a reply. Perhaps when he sees the above photo the State Department sent me, he'll post a better one on Flickr.


2013 - UK Northern Ireland - Monogrammed leather Mulberry bags

2011 - France - Leaders received a letter opener in a special G8 edition presentation box with ‘‘G8 France 2011, Nouveau Monde, Nouvelles Idees’’ and shape of the Eiffel Tower engraved along with a variety of other gifts (Hermes scarf, gold coin, chocolates, pen, lighter, glassware, and more)

2010 - Canada - A local artist handcrafted bowls out of sugar maple for each of the G8 leaders.

2009 - Italy - Monogrammed Pineider Leather briefcases, desk sets and desk pads; monogrammed terrycloth bathrobe, towels, slippers, a tablecloth and napkin set, an official G8 cotton jacket; gold coin, watch, and limited edition rare art books.

2008 - Japan - G8 commemorative coins; vermillion lacquerware sake cups, adorned with a gold mountain cherry blossom and inscribed in gold with their initials

Sources: knotsburls.com; pianki,com; ctvnews.ca; gpo.gov (2008); Reuters; R.S. Owens; FOIA.gov; The Telegraph

Monday, March 18, 2013

Camp David By Helicopter

It takes approximately 30 minutes to travel from the White House to Camp David by helicopter. Provided the weather conditions permit, it is the preferred way to get to the presidential retreat. The helicopter landing area at Camp David is located away from the cabin areas and guests often use golf carts to get where they need to go.

Visiting leaders are met with a formal arrival ceremony at Camp David by Marines and Navy personnel in their dress uniforms.  The photos below show the arrival of  European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso at Camp David for the 2012 G8 Summit.

Helicopter carrying European Commission President Barroso arrives at Camp David

Camp David Marines and Navy personnel head over to the helicopter

Official greetings are extended to the arriving guest

The participating service members salute as the arriving leader passes

President Barroso is escorted to a golf cart

President Eisenhower was the first president to fly to Camp David on a  helicopter. You can read about his July 1957 trip on another blog post: Ike's First Helicopter Ride to Camp David.

Read more about the use of Golf Carts at Camp David.

Camp David helicopter landing zone (Bing Maps)

Overhead view of area around the helicopter landing zone. Skeet range visible in lower right (Bing Maps)

The video below simulates a round trip from the White House to Camp David via helicopter.

SourcesEuropean Commission; Bing Maps