The Washington Times - February 5, 2009, 06:24PM

On day 17 of his presidency, President Obama took off from the White House in the Marine One helicopter for the first time.

The still new president walked out of the White House residence and strode alone briskly to the chopper as the winter twilight gathered.

You can tell the difference between presidents — at least Bush and Obama — in the little things, and Obama’s gait on his way to the helo reflected the fact that this was a new experience for him. There was none of the familiarity that I so often saw watching Bush make this similar walk countless times.

Another sign of presidential inexperience: when Obama reached the foot of the stairs up into the helicopter, he stopped and greeted the Marine standing in full salute, and extended his hand. Pictures later showed that the Marine looked thoroughly shocked by the break in protocol.

After Obama boarded, his aides followed. The top dogs on this flight — always a sign of true star power inside the White House — were chief of staff Rahm Emmanuel, press secretary Robert Gibbs, and legislative affairs director Phil Schiliro.

And as the president took off, a flock of staffers emerged from the West Wing to watch. They cheered and clapped in another sign that this is a new crew who can’t quite believe sometimes where they are.

Jon Favreau, Obama’s 27-year-old chief speechwriter, was among the staffers who looked spellbound as Marine One departed. He wore no coat over his suit and no hat on his shaved head, despite the frigid temperatures.

“That was pretty cool,” he said as the chopper headed off into the distance, bound for Andrews Air Force Base, where Obama and crew were set to fly to Williamsburg for a short visit with Democratic lawmakers and an address by the president.

Obama is scheduled to return to the White House at about 10 p.m.

See video of the Marine One departure here.


- Jon Ward, White House reporter, The Washington Times

** This post originally quoted Favreau as saying, “That was awesome.”