When King Hussein of Jordan, at the controls of his jet, touched down at Andrews Air Force Base earlier this summer, there were about 100 cheering waving friends and dignitaries in the official welcoming party.
As the king and his wife, Queen Noor, descended the steps of the plane into the throng to accept bouquets of roses and embrace relatives, neither seemed to notice the unofficial welcoming party that had gathered hundreds of yards away behind a chain-link fence.
With a light rain falling, young women clad in shots huddled under umbrellas, parents wrapped blankets around babies in strollers and told their seemingly unimpressed 2-year-olds, "See, there's the king."
A few minutes later, Hussein and company sped off toward the Beltway in a 14-limousine motorcade for what would become a historic six-day official state visit here.
And just as quickly as the royal party departed, the nearly 20 persons who had waited outside the gate an extra hour because Hussein's plane was late scampered for their compact cars to return to homes on or near the base.
So intent were the onlookers on catching a glimpse of the royal couple through the crowd that no one seemed to notice that Rosalynn Carter had just departed for a trip to New York from a hangar just a short distance away.
The Hussein episode was the kind that many of the nearly 7,760 civilian and military employes at Andrews have come to regard casually.
Sgt. Melvin Boston, an Upper Marlboro resident who has worked at Andrews for 10 years, for example, has become nonchalant about the comings and goings of VIP's.
"It just becomes another story to you," he said about VIP arivals in general. "It doesn't fascinate you that much unless it's someone very irregular. Somebody else very far away would probably go out and see them, but I've seen them so many times before, it really doesn't matter too much now."
But for others who live at or near Andrews, like those who waited outside the gates to see Hussein, a chance to see history in the making isresistible. irristible.
"Oooh, I'm very impressed, I really am," said Helen Armstrong of Fredericksburg, Tex., who was visiting her son, 2nd Lt. Ronald Armstrong, a base security officer.
"I come from such a small town and we never get to see anything like this," continued Armstrong, who had brought her 4-year-old grandson Ray along for the event. "This is just a ral treat for us."
"I've always wanted to see world leaders," said Gayle Southworth, whose husband David heads the base's security police force. "You always read about them in the newspapers and it's nice to see them in person, even if they are a little too far away."
Kings and queens, presidents and prime ministers and other "code 1" (heads of state) visitors occasionally buzz in and out during the nearly 450 daily take offs and landings at the 4,866-acre base in Prince George's County.
According to Lt. Col. Jim Sweeney, the base's protocol chief, there sometimes is red-carpet treatment or full honor ceremonies, with 21-gun salutes, brass bands, speeches and the playing of national anthems -- coordinated by the military district of Washington in conjunction with the State Department -- in accordance with the wishes of the VIP.
Then there are the arrivals like Hussein's where the dignitary is simply whisked off in a helicopter or motorcade for ceremonies downtown. An average of 900 VIPs a month land at Andrews, but few are the top-ranking Code 1s, Sweeney said.
Regardless of the length of the ceremony, Sweeney's office and virtually all others on the base begin planning for a major arrival two to three weeks in advance.
Much of the planning is perfunctory, Sweeney explained, glancing at the routine check list for such events.
Notify base officials, security police, photographer and press office.
Coordinate with the Secret Service, and appropriate embassy and State Department officials on cermonies and security, and with local police for motorcade escort.
Contact base agencies in charge of air traffic and the dozens of other support services.
All air tarffic on the VIP side of the base is stopped 10 minutes before a dignitary arrives so that VIPs don't have to compete with the roar of an airplane engine while making a speech -- as once happened to Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin.
If necessary, platforms are built, a public address system hooked up and electrical connections put in place for the broadcast media.
Among the hundreds of other details is making sure the right flag is on hand.
As part of their jobs, the employes at Andrews often come in contact with people their children and grandchildren will read about in history books.Not every day brings a DV -- distinguished visitor -- or even a chance to glimpse one, but there are occasions.
When Queen Elizabeth Ii of great Ritain came here to help the United States celebrate its Bicentennial, deputy base civil engineer Robert Starkey and his crew of neary 700 made sure there were no unsightly gum wrappers or cans around to mar the occasion.
And in 1959 when Nikita Khrushchey became the first Soviet head of state to visit the county, Starkey and company made sure Khrushchev had a platform to stand on and a public address system so people could hear him, even if they couldn't understand him.
"I've seen them all," said Starkey, who has worked at Andrews nearly 37 years. "You get used to it and you get to the point where you don't pay much attention, except in unusual cases, like the pope, the queen of England and the day they brought President Kennedy's body back from Texas . . . the saddest day I can remember."
Starkey, whose office overseas all maintenance on the base, has seen every president since Franklin D. Roosevelt. He also watched as Anwar Sadat and Begin shuttled in and out countless times in quest of a Middle East peace agreement.
And Starkey was there when then-president Richard Nixon returned triumphantly from the People's Republic of China in 1972 to the cheers of almost 10,000 persons and when Nixon left the presidency and Washington in August 1974, waving to a few hundred.
When Neil Armstrong Edwin Aldrin and Mike Collins came to Andrews, Tom Higgins and members of the base's passenger service office saw to it that the three men who had made it to the moon and back in 1969 didn't lose their luggage on earth.
And when 37 heads of state arrived within the space of 90 minutes on an overcast October day to celebrate the United Nations' 25th anniversary at the White House, Higgins and his staff made sure that the planes stopped at just the right spot for the dignitaries to parade down to a red-carpet welcome.
"I've had some good times and some sad times like the POWs coming back," called Higgins, who has been at Andrews for 14 years. That was both sad and glad to see them coming back after seven years in prison.
"It was a very happy crowd, knowing what they had come to witnes. Seeing those guys get off the airplane and knowing what they'd been through can really bring a tear to your eye. . .
"And the first group of astronauts, the Apollo men. It was quite a thrill meeting guys who had been up in space, being able to talk to them and ask about their experiences -- about the space flight in general and what it was like up on the moon."
Over the years, Higgins has become an amateur political analyst, observing the demeanor of world leaders en route to making headlines.
"I tend to look at them and try to get a personality profile of them as they come down (the plane's steps). Like Hussein is alwasy smiling, the shah of Iran was always smiling. It seems that. Begin is a very serious type . . ."
By far the biggest crowd at Andrews in recent memory was last October for Pope John Paul Ii, when nearly 15,000 persons crammed into the viewing area "reserved" for the public. Most stopovers are not publicized for security reasons, and base personnel and residents usually find out about a pending visit through word of mouth.
"That was really something to see -- the pope in your own country," said Joan Fisher, who had seen a pope before in Rome, but packed up the family (her husband Richard is a chief master sergeant) for the six-hour vigil to await this pope's arrival.
"He was so personable, walking along the gate to talk to crippled children and others," said protocol's Sweeney referring to the pope. "And King Juan Carlos (of Spain) was great. He made a point of asking us not to stand out in the cold waiting for (the rest of the entourage to get settled.)
"The bigger the person, I've found, the less they have to tell you they're big."