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Monroeville

Gateway grad writes book about his time as Camp David commanding officer

| Friday, Feb. 2, 2018, 12:15 p.m.
Michael Giorgione and his family - Briana, Ryanne and wife, Michele - in a photo taken early in his years as commanding officer at the Camp David presidential retreat.
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Michael Giorgione and his family - Briana, Ryanne and wife, Michele - in a photo taken early in his years as commanding officer at the Camp David presidential retreat.

As commanding officer of the Camp David presidential retreat, Michael Giorgione, who grew up in Monroeville, had a front-row seat to history being made.

But it was a more common experience that sticks out in his mind.

Giorgione, 59, said he knew he hit the big time when he and his family sat with members of the Bush family — including both presidents and their wives — at a brunch after a rededication ceremony for the camp chapel in 2001. George W. Bush's two daughters and brother Jeb also were there.

He said they were all very gracious and he has fond memories of sharing naval experiences with former President George H.W. Bush.

It is events like these Giorgione recounts in his book, “Inside Camp David: The Private World of the Presidential Retreat,” published recently by Little, Brown.

The book, which was penned to mark the camp's 75th anniversary, includes anecdotes from Giorgione, as well as people who preceded and followed him.

Giorgione headed the camp from June 1999 to August 2001 under Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.

Located in the Catoctin Mountains in Maryland, near Washington, D.C., the 200-acre base is officially designated Naval Support Facility Thurmont and has 200 sailors and Marines. It has hosted family gatherings for 14 presidents, from Franklin Roosevelt to Donald Trump.

Dwight Eisenhower named it after his grandson.

Besides being a place where presidents can relax and recreate, it has been the site of private meetings and powerful summits with foreign leaders.

Giorgione, a 1976 Gateway High School graduate and 1981 U.S. Naval Academy graduate, was its 17th commanding officer.

In a phone interview, Giorgione, who retired as a rear admiral and lives in Coronado, California, said his book has no dirt. It is just a view of what it is like to be a regular person in a presidential world.

“We're in their world (but) not of (it),” he said.

He said it was interesting taking in “human stuff” — like what they liked to eat.

Among historic events, he said one of his most memorable experiences was seeing Bush and former British Prime Minister Tony Blair meet for the first time in 2001. The two would form a partnership that would last through the harrowing days after the 9/11 attacks later that year.

He said he also enjoyed being on hand as Clinton convened Middle East peace talks in 2000. Giorgione said it was surreal to see people come together to try to solve a problem that has been going on for more than 2,000 years.

Giorgione, who lived on the grounds with his family, said the toughest part of the job was raising children in a such a secluded location. He and his wife, the former Michele Statnick — a 1979 Gateway graduate — have two daughters, Ryanne, 23, and Briana, 25.

He said his one daughter cried that she had to live there. Giorgione said they had a spacious cabin and a great yard, but she complained there were no neighbor children to play with.

He said both girls, though, loved the presidential dogs, and cherished the stuffed animals Chelsea Clinton handed down to them.

Giorgione has visited seven cities so far to promote his book. Recently, he was featured in a segment on C-Span 2 Book TV.

“The book is written in a non-partisan, fair yet credible tone, and why I share nothing negative about anyone,” he said. “That would have been disrespectful to the retreat, the presidents and their families, and to the men and women who have served there for over 75 years.”

Karen Kadilak is a freelance writer.

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