Frazee-Vergas graduate helped bring presidents' message to the people
FRAZEE, Minn. — Not too many people from the area can say they worked at the White House, and flew repeatedly on Air Force One, but Frazee graduate Jesse Anderson can.
He worked in the White House for four years as a Navy communications expert, helping document the public appearances of presidents Obama and Trump. He later worked for 10 months in the White House Situation Room.
Anderson, 28, joined the Navy shortly after graduating from Frazee-Vergas High School in 2009, and he was able to get the job he wanted: interior communications technician.
The Navy has been good to Anderson. He enlisted at rank E-1 and has risen to be a leading petty officer first class, or IC1. But he is also very good at what he does, and made his own opportunities; he applied and won the job in White House Television, and later the job in the Situation Room.
He started that four-year command on Oct. 13, 2015.
The job of the 10 to 15 military and civilian workers at White House TV is to make unedited audio and video of the president’s public appearances, both at home and across the globe.
“White House television video-records the president for archive purposes, and also uploads the raw footage to the Whitehouse.gov website,” Anderson said on a recent visit back to the area. “This is the true official record, unchanged. This is how it actually happened,” he said. The same career federal employee has been in charge of the unit for over 15 years, and makes sure the official archives are protected and preserved, he said.
The job means lots of travel. Anderson went to dozens of places, from China to Belgium to Hawaii, to prepare for presidential visits. The “presets” can take several days, and staff have to be ready to move from one overseas site to the next. One June and July “the travel rate was upward of 90 percent,” Anderson said. Two White House TV technicians, one videographer and one audio person, go with the president anywhere he goes, Anderson said.
White House TV works closely with both American and foreign press, which is easy at preset news conferences and more difficult at “pool sprays,” events like bill signings or agreements with foreign powers, where reporters jostle for the best spots and sometimes try to elbow out the White House TV staff.
“If it’s just U.S. press, everybody knows where to go and where to set up,” but sometimes foreign reporters can be rude and aggressive, Anderson said.
Also in the mix are videographers and photographers that work personally for the president and his family, and use the material for their own purposes, he said.
Anderson worked under both presidents Obama and Trump, saw them in action, and sometimes exchanged a few words with them or bumped into their family members, but prefers not to talk about his impression of them.
The only technical difference between the two presidents is that Obama put out weekly videos just for White House TV and Trump did not continue the practice. “It was the only thing we got that the press didn’t get until it was posted,” he said.
Members of all military service units work together at the White House Communications Agency, which encompasses White House TV. “It’s a joint command … They’re looking for that top-notch military person,” he said. And those who get the job need to remain professional at all times, under sometimes stressful conditions, “or you get booted out of the agency,” Anderson said.
Anderson’s first Navy job was four years on the USS Sampson, a destroyer commissioned in 2007. “My actual job in the Navy is troubleshooting small electronics — TVs, phones, alarms, announcing systems, the inner (fiber optics) system signal flow,” he said. So it was all on-the-job training when he got to White House TV.
“I started at Level 4 and ended at Level 1,” he said. Level 4 staffers run the audio recording equipment, level 3 staff are videographers, manning the camera. Level 2 are single-camera livestream technicians, and Level 1 are technicians that livestream multiple cameras, basically acting as directors of big events, which can involve up to four cameras.
“They add artistic value to the job, and they go overseas, figuring out the logistics needed for (upcoming) events.” Anderson said. The civilian head of the unit told him he was the first person on his staff without video experience to make it up to Level 1.
When it comes to travel, White House TV staff fly on both commercial and military aircraft. “The commercial plane, you get the comfy seat, but on the military plane you can lay on the floor,” he said. “It can get cold, but you can wrap up in a sleeping bag.”
On the whole, “I preferred Air Force One,” he said with a smile. He flew multiple times on one of two highly customized Boeing 747s used by the president. “They use seating cards for Air Force One, changed out on every leg of the trip. I saved every one of those cards — I have a nice stack of them.”
“Air Force One is not like any other plane,” he said. “There are different sections for press, for guests, for Secret Service, for staff and for the president and his family,” he said. “There’s a little conference table for him.”
He also flew on military Ospreys, a hybrid plane-helicopter, for short trips following the presidential helicopter in the United States.
As for the Situation Room, it might be best known for the photo of Obama watching the special forces raid in 2011 that ended in the death of Osama bin Laden.
That was before Anderson’s time, of course, and he said the photo just showed a conference room in a much-larger complex, under the authority of the national security advisor.
John Bolton was in charge during Anderson’s time as a communications specialist in the Situation Room. That’s about all Anderson could say about the highly sensitive position.
Like his grandfather, Bernie, and his brother, Josh (who works on Navy jet electronics), Jesse loves the Navy, and after a short visit home last week is already off for extensive training at schools in San Diego and Norfolk for his next job aboard the USS Russell, a destroyer commissioned in 1995.