Greeting Bush is routine for city native

By Jason J. Barry, Record-Journal staff
As soon as the wheels stopped they would come to salute. The game plan for military precision and ceremony was made off-the-cuff between two marines, 30 seconds before the limousine pulled up.

When President George W. Bush got out, Jason Welles stood still, already holding his right hand to the brim of his hat. He remained vigilant and looked sharp. Welles watched carefully to synchronize his movements with the crew chief aboard the U.S. Marine Corps helicopter Marine-1.

As soon as the President's foot hit the helicopter's first step, Welles and the chief each counted to themselves one one-thousand, two one-thousand and brought their saluting hands to their sides. The crew chief stepped out and after he crossed Welles' path, Welles strode outside the rotor arch.

With everyone in safe and with the helicopter hatch closed tight, Welles saluted the pilot, walked out 30 paces, stood at attention, then braced for the takeoff.

"With the grass, you see a rush of wind coming at you. Right before it hits you, you go into your tuck," Welles said.

As a U.S. Marine and a member of the Presidential Helicopter Squadron HMX-1, greeting and protecting Bush, Dick Cheney and Colin Powell has become commonplace for Welles, a native of Meriden and Cheshire.

"It's a Marine aircraft and the responsibility of that Marine to act as a compliment to the existing security, the Secret Service," said Capt. Shawn Turner, media officer at the U.S. Marine Corps Headquarters at the Pentagon.

The squadron's first presidential passenger was in 1957 President Eisenhower according to information from the U.S. Marine Corps. The need for Eisenhower to quickly return to the White House from a vacation in Narragansett Bay led Marines to fly him to Air Force One instead of taking an hour-long ferry ride to his plane.

Welles was recruited for the squadron while he trained to be a military police officer for the Marines in 2000. His selection into HMX-1 pulled him from his assignment at a Marine base in Okinawa, Japan. Instead, he has been based at Bolling Airforce Base in Washington, D.C., and traveled to Europe and Asia.

The exotic locales were a vast departure from where he grew up in Connecticut. He lived in Meriden on Red Fox Lane until he was 11, then his family moved to Prospect Road in Cheshire.

While attending Cheshire High School, Welles stuck to the books and volunteered as a police explorer with the Meriden Police Department. Otherwise, he spent time juggling homework with three jobs. Before school he delivered newspapers. After school he worked as an auto body shop helper and then went on to deliver pizzas, often all in the same day.

"It's hard contending with all these Cheshire people who've got all the money," Welles said.

His parents, Gene and Carol Welles, are involved in the medical field Gene is a bio-medical engineer and Carol is a nurse but Welles gravitated toward police work. Meriden's Police Explorers gave him his first glimpse of the profession. At 16, he guarded the gate to the Police Benevolent Association fishing derby. By the time he was 20, he was guarding the President.

"That's a feather in his cap. This young man must have the fiber it takes to be in that crucial situation," Meriden police spokesman Sgt. Lenny Caponigro said. "Our explorers program goes a long way to teach responsibility to the community and gives them an opportunity to see what helping can make you feel like."

Working close to the President has become mundane, Welles said, but he still asks friends fellow Marines to snap pictures of him on the job when they can. Some trips, he admits, have been quite fun, including a jaunt to Camp David in Maryland, where he has played basketball with President Bush and his daughters and watched movies three weeks before they premiered in mainstream theaters.

"It gets pretty normal, but it's always there that's the President of the United States," Welles said.

At Camp David, Welles became privy to some uncommon, but not top-secret information. In the Camp David weight room, Bush is ranked as the strongest president, Welles said, and Bush is an avid runner.

Often times, Bush will run three miles in 100-degree weather. Joining him and keeping up gets a Marine or Secret Service Agent into the 100-degree club. Bush can make the run in 20 minutes flat, but Marines interested in doing the same need to pre-qualify with an 18- or 19-minute time to make the Corps look good. Welles hasn't done the run, yet.

"He's got some impressive stories. He just turned 21 and he is down there at Camp David," Officer Patrick Gaynor said.

Welles said he plans to finish his four year commitment with the Marines, return to Connecticut and attend college for business courses. With his top-secret clearance and an additional clearance to carry a weapon in proximity to the president, he expects jobs with the Secret Service, the FBI or the Meriden Police Department won't be hard to come by.

"I always wanted to be a cop in Meriden," he said. "I could go anywhere, anywhere they need a trustworthy person. They've got to trust you anytime you have a loaded gun near the president."

(203) 317-2475