WASHINGTON – Katie Cole knew she had an exciting career in the Coast Guard, but the Springville native wasn’t quite prepared for the excitement she found Tuesday, when President Obama and Vice President Biden sat down to lunch with her.
“I’m so thankful,” Cole, 26, said in an interview after she and four other active-duty service members enjoyed lunch with the president and the vice president at Molly Malone’s, an Irish pub on Capitol Hill. “Today was just the coolest day of my life.”
A day after Veterans Day, Obama and Biden decided to have lunch with one active-duty member from each of the armed services to thank them for their service and to hear from the rank-and-file about how things are going.
The White House wouldn’t say how they settled on inviting Cole or the four other service members who gathered at Molly Malone’s. And it’s still a mystery, too, to Cole, a petty officer who serves as director of the Executive Secretariat at the Office of the Commandant of the Coast Guard in Washington, D.C.
She got a call from the White House Military Office at about 5 p.m. Monday, inviting her to lunch the next day with “a senior White House official.”
Not surprisingly, Cole thought something big was up, and she struggled to sleep on Monday night as a result.
But it was only about 10 or 15 minutes before lunch that she was told that the “senior White House official” was the most senior of them all and that his second-in-command would be there, too.
Upon sitting down, Cole ordered a chicken Caesar salad, and the president and vice president both ordered bacon cheeseburgers.
And while a White House press pool reporter heard plenty of laughter coming from the table – especially from the vice president – Cole said serious business was discussed, too.
Obama and Biden engaged each of the service members in a conversation about how things were going for them, Cole said.
“President Obama and Vice President Biden were curious about how they could better serve the Coast Guard, how they could help us out,” she said.
For her part, Cole didn’t have much to say.
“I am very happy,” she said.
And why not? Cole joined the Coast Guard after graduating from Springville-Griffith Institute in 2006, thinking she was “looking for some structure” to her young life that college couldn’t provide.
And while Cole originally planned to serve for four years and then go on to college, her Coast Guard experiences led her to make a career of it. In seven years, she has gone from manning boat crews doing law enforcement and search-and-rescue missions on Alexandria Bay all the way to the Coast Guard Commandant’s office – a posting that somehow left her trading banter with the president over lunch.
After telling the president that she was from Buffalo, Obama immediately made an observation about the chilly, blustery Washington weather outside.
“This is like a day in May in Buffalo,” said Obama, who visited Buffalo on a similarly chilly, blustery day in May 2010.
Hearing that, Cole replied: “Yes, sir, you’re right.”