About the Author: Dan Piccuta serves as the Charge d'affaires at the U.S. Embassy in Beijing, China.
Goose bumps and moist eyes -- I know to expect both.
As I prepare to head out to Beijing Airport on this cold Friday evening, I am getting a familiar feeling. I am beginning to anticipate "the moment" of each visit that has always been particularly special for me.
In a few hours, Secretary Clinton will arrive in China, on her first trip as Secretary of State. As I prepare to join the motorcade forming at the airport, I can't help but think of how often I've done this before -- how I have stood watch on runways from Venice to Pyongyang, from Key West to Moscow -- waiting on the U.S. Air Force Boeing 757 "blue and white" that carries Secretaries of State on their travels. "Blue and white" because the Secretary's aircraft has the same light blue and white markings as the more familiar Air Force One. To us in the State Department that 757 is known simply as "the plane."
At the airport, I will link up with the Secretary's advance party, security detail and Embassy staff and will congratulate them on their hard work in preparing for the visit. I will compliment the high-level Chinese government officials who have led the trip planning on their side, and who with me will welcome Secretary Clinton. They will be the first Chinese representatives to shake the Secretary's hand in her new job as America's top diplomat. With the visit planning behind us, and the Secretary's meetings and public events still to come, those moments on the tarmac anticipating the arrival of the Secretary are usually quiet, eerily empty of activity and in stark contrast to the frenetic pace of the pre-arrival preparations.
As the plane enters Beijing's airspace, we will get the signal to move from the terminal out into position, and we will search the night sky for the running lights of our Secretary's blue and white. And when it appears, an American flag on its tail, so too will special emotions. Every time I see "the plane" descending onto a foreign runway I am filled with an odd combination of pride and humility. I am always moved by the display of American prestige in the form of the Air Force "blue and white" and, amidst the dozens of ground personnel, security agents, media and staff taking up their positions, I always reflect on the fact that I am privileged to be in the service of the country I love and the cause of furthering peace, security and friendship. And, as has happened on every other such arrival, once again they will appear -- goose bumps and moist eyes.