Face of Defense: Airman Provides Logistics for Obama’s Archival Move
FORT GEORGE G. MEADE, Md. --
The presidential library system is a national network of 13 libraries hosting the many records and artifacts generated during the tenure of every president since Herbert Hoover, and a library in Chicago honoring the achievements of President Barack Obama will soon join the network.
The items housed inside those libraries and museums aren’t transferred from Washington like a typical household goods move. Specially formed teams from the military and the National Archives and Records Administration have worked since late 2016 with White House staff to coordinate the transfer, with the final truckload expected to arrive in Chicago early this year.
Air Force Lt. Col. Vianesa Vargas, the chief of Joint Team Records, is leading the charge for the more than 700-mile trek from Washington to Hoffman Estates, Illinois, just on the outskirts of Chicago. She’s the lead logistician in charge of a joint team of airmen and soldiers who have prepared tractor trailers full of artifacts. In all, more than 20 trucks are expected to make deliveries.
Vargas described her team as the “muscle behind the move.” The NARA team packages the items from the White House and then coordinates with Vargas and her team for shipment.
“Our team will assist NARA in going over to the White House, picking up the documents, records or gift(s), and they bring it all to the National Archives and at that point it’s planned for onward movement,” Vargas said.
On the receiving end at Hoffman Estates is a team of sailors from Naval Station Great Lakes, Illinois. Vargas said the teams, despite being separated by 700 miles and two time zones, have been exceptional and among the best NARA has said they’ve worked with.
Vargas and her team are responsible for every record and artifact from the time it’s being loaded until it’s on the shelf at Hoffman Estates. She said her team has the ability to track the entire transit, including every stop along the route.
Unexpected Career Path
Growing up just outside Sacramento, California, Vargas said she never envisioned being put in the position she’s currently in, with the responsibility of moving historical artifacts for one of the most prominent people on the planet.
“When I left Sacramento I thought I was going to go to school and become a fitness trainer, one of the top fitness trainers in the nation, that was like my goal then … life has a way of kind of pointing you in the direction of where it needs you to go,” Vargas said. “So joining the Air Force ROTC program, that opened up my mind and my heart to something much bigger, much bigger than myself.”
Vargas, who has been in the Air Force for 18 years -- her first 11 were active duty and the rest of her time served in the Air Force Reserve – said her various logistics jobs, including joint assignments, have prepared her well for her current assignment.
Aside from working with NARA and White House staff, Vargas has coordinated with multiple agencies from Joint Base Andrews, Maryland, and the Air Force District of Washington.
“There’s all these different parts that we have to all work with, and being a logistician, that’s really where we excel – is being the integrator of all of that,” she said.
John Laster, the director of the Presidential Materials Division for NARA, said Vargas and her team are very skilled and have been very efficient throughout the entire process thus far.
He noted that the team has been very flexible and responsive when dealing with the challenges of moving an administration that is still hard at work running the country, making it difficult to plan very far ahead. “There’s a lot of decisions that are made very quickly and the military has been fantastic about understanding that,” Laster said.
Although the library isn’t expected to open until sometime in 2021, Vargas said she can’t wait to take her family to visit and tell them how she had a role in making it all happen.