The President Comes to Marathon County

Written by Brad Karger

I don’t think there can be much dispute about it . . .

Marathon County is a red county in a purple state.

Need documentation?

  • Scott Walker got 59% of the votes cast in Marathon County in his failed effort to seek a third term.
  • Leah Vukmir got 53% of the votes cast in our county in her unsuccessful attempt to unseat Senator Tammy Baldwin.
  • Sean Duffy and Jerry Petrowski both received 64% of the votes cast in Marathon County for their successful re-election bids.

President Donald Trump has access to some very sophisticated polling data; he knew that his presence at a rally in Marathon County in support of Republican candidates would receive a warm welcome — and he was right.

I’m not going to get into estimating crowd size, but by all accounts, the crowd was big and the rally participants were enthusiastic.

When the President of the United States travels to a community, the U.S. Secret Service is in charge of the President’s safety. To successfully accomplish their task, they need to tap into several state and local resources, such as State Patrol, Emergency Management, Sheriff’s Office, Fire and Emergency Medical Services, and airport staff.

To pull all of this together requires a local person taking the lead in planning and coordinating the President’s visit. For President Trump’s October 24, 2018, visit to Marathon County, Emergency Management Director Phil Rentmeester took on that role. Here’s how Phil described his participation in this historic presidential visit:


Phil Rentmeester,
Emergency Management Director

Marathon County Emergency Management was involved with planning an incident action plan, presenting the plan, and implementing it as it related to local fire departments, Emergency Medical Services, and the Hazardous Materials Response Team.

The night before the event, I spent time at the Mosinee Fire Department talking with different fire departments on the set-up and responsibilities of those departments. We also discussed a communications plan. The Marathon County Emergency Response Team provided five members the night of the event for standby at the Central Wisconsin Airport in Mosinee, as well as providing lighting to the parking area.

As Emergency Management Director, I worked in the Command Post and assisted with response requests, along with actual responses into the crowd for emergency medical service. I also fielded questions from local agencies regarding closed streets and highways.

The rally occurred inside the secure areas of the Central Wisconsin Airport, utilizing a hanger owned by Delta Airlines. President Trump arrived by air, but the rally participants arrived by car, leaving a need for security even outside the secure area where the rally was being conducted. That responsibility fell to the Marathon County Sheriff’s Office to plan and staff. Chief Deputy Sheriff Chad Billeb explained:

Chad Billeb, Chief Deputy Sheriff

The Marathon County Sheriff’s Office was responsible for all planning associated with [locations] outside the event [at the Central Wisconsin Airport]. We had teams at posts on the perimeter of the airport, as well as at the checkpoint and at key infrastructure points. We also had a team that was a part of the President’s motorcade and the associated traffic team, in the event he had to leave the airport for any reason.

By default, we became responsible for all parking and crowd control as well. We leaned on our area law enforcement partners to do this. We couldn’t have done it alone!

Outside of the Secret Service and State Patrol, we had close to 60 officers and deputies we coordinated. We also utilized the new command post and dispatch trailer, where we had two dispatchers dedicated to staff at the event.

Central Wisconsin Airport (CWA) was the host site for the rally, and it was “all hands on deck” to assist with parking, trash collection, VIP accommodations, airfield security, and other facility needs. CWA’s staff of 24 were involved in literally everything that needed to be done to make the event safe and to meet the expectations of both the President and the Governor. According to Airport Director Brian J. Grefe:

Brian J. Grefe,
Central Wisconsin Airport Director

Our main role was coordination. We had U.S. Secret Service and Air Force One personnel show up the weekend before. We had three C-17 flights come in, one of which contained Marine One. The rest contained personnel, equipment, and the presidential motorcade. There were also semitruck deliveries beginning Saturday, October 20, coming from areas like Washington, D.C., and Volk Field Air National Guard Base [in Juneau County].

Logistically, we had to park Marine One out of sight, while supporting their flying mission. That took Fixed-Based Operator coordination and clearing out hangars. The C-17s could park outdoors, but they took up most of the ramp. We coordinated with the airlines to make the temporary flight impact as minimal as possible. Only two flights were marginally impacted. Our air cargo operators flew out of Stevens Point the day of the rally, and a few private operators positioned off site for the day. Even the rental car companies nearly exhausted their resources with the influx of customers, mostly Secret Service.

Outside the fence line, parking was our main concern — not the event parking, but ensuring that our airport terminal parking remained usable for the flying public. In order to do this, we had six staff members assigned to the roadway and parking lot to keep our airport lots available for travelers.

There was also a private reception held in the newly renovated Blind Rooster Kitchen + Bar for event “VIPs.” This rally moved up the completion of the restaurant from its planned opening of Thursday [October 25, 2018].

Event parking did become our biggest challenge. Event organizers had not planned for parking, coordinated parking, arranged transportation for parking, designated offsite parking, or signed a liability release for . . . you guessed it, parking. With this lack of planning, other complications arose, including trash service, wetland avoidance, pedestrian movement, and lighting. Fortunately, no one was injured, and the crowd was fairly considerate.

From an airport staffing standpoint, we used all of our resources, including all available full-time personnel (excluding two pre-arranged vacations), all part-time employees, our full seasonal snow-removal team, and three volunteers. Almost everyone worked in excess of 12 hours on the day of the event.

U.S. Presidents do not often travel to Marathon County. Before the Trump rally, the last time a sitting president was here was when President George W. Bush visited Wausau on October 7, 2004.

Whether you’re a supporter of President Trump or not, we all share an interest in the President’s safety and the safety of the many people who attended the rally, as well as the travelling public who just happened to be at CWA that day.

Correspondingly, we all owe our deep gratitude to the many agency staff and volunteers who worked to ensure public safety at this local gathering, including (but not limited to):

  • U.S. Secret Service
  • Wisconsin State Patrol
  • Marathon County Emergency Management
  • Marathon County Sheriff’s Office
  • Mosinee Fire Department
  • Central Wisconsin Airport

This event was no small endeavor, and our people did a great job!

While I’m sure that there were some issues identified that we’ll do differently next time, I’m proud to be associated with such great team players who possess high levels of technical competence and who do very important work serving the public.

Brad Karger - Marathon County AdministratorBrad Karger

Marathon County Administrator

In his Administrator role, Brad Karger leads an organization with 700+ employees and an annual budget of more than $162 million. Brad has been in leadership positions with Marathon County for the past 30 years. He is known statewide for generating innovative ideas and solutions to problems, openness and transparency, and a commitment to community service that extends well beyond the normal workday.  Email Brad Karger.

Image credit:
Donald Trump photo by Gage Skidmore via Photopin (license).

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