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Myths Surrounding Nuclear ‘Football’

May 5, 2005

For all the fascination with the nuclear football, former military aides at the White House say carrying the black bag was a small part of their job.

The aides also help plan the president’s travels outside Washington and coordinate other military operations that support the president, such as Air Force One, the presidential helicopters, motorcades and the White House Communications Office.

The president has five military officers _ one from each branch of the armed forces, including the Coast Guard _ who serve two-year assignments.

Most of the aides have been men. They are selected from Pentagon candidates so carefully screened that the investigation can take a year or more. Ultimately, each receives the ``Yankee White″ clearance necessary to work in such proximity to the president.

Former aides say there are plenty of misconceptions about the football. Among them:

MYTH: It is handcuffed to the military aide. FACT: It has a leather cinch strap that can be looped around the wrist.

MYTH: It contains nuclear launch codes. FACT: It contains codes the president would need to order the Pentagon to launch nuclear weapons.

MYTH: It is always at the president’s side. FACT: It must always be easily accessible but sometimes is kept nearby, in another room or vehicle, for example.

MYTH: There is only one football. FACT: There are three. The president has one, the vice president has one and a backup is stored at the White House.