President Bush said his final goodbye to the nation on Thursday night in his last public address from the White House.
And while Tuesday will mark the beginning a new chapter in American history when President-elect Barack Obama takes his oath of office, it also will mean a new beginning for one North Dakotan who has spent the last decade working under Bush in one capacity or another.
On Jan. 20, Wishek native Mark Pfeifle will be officially relieved from his position as a national security adviser to the president.
In a recent interview, Pfeifle looked back on his experience under the Bush administration. He recounted many of the things that Bush noted during his farewell speech, namely the domestic and international events and decisions that have come to define the last eight years.
Pfeifle witnessed many of them firsthand.
In 2001, Pfeifle joined the Interior Department and was one of the first administration officials sent to Ground Zero after the Twin Towers fell on Sept. 11. There, he worked as a communications director, ushering press pools and congressional delegations through the disaster site.
"One is almost unable to explain it, the size and enormity," Pfeifle said of the destruction. "The smell is what I remember."
Pfeifle was reassigned to the president's national security team in 2007. And after a couple days on the job, he was sent to the U.S. military's Green Zone near Baghdad during the height of the U.S. offensive in Iraq as Bush made the case to send additional troops into the country to quell sectarian violence.
Pfeifle acknowledged that these last eight years have been challenging. When asked about the president's low poll numbers and how that affected the White House and his job, he has a similar answer that Bush gave on Thursday.
"Sometimes when those types of situations come to play, popularity is not issue one," Pfeifle said. "Issue one is working hard every day to make sure that the country is safe and that we're focused on the big issues."
President Bush summed up his presidency like this on Thursday:
"Like all who have held this office before me, I have experienced setbacks," he said. "There are things I would do differently if given the chance, yet I have always acted with the best interests of our country in mind."
Many of us have watched the significant events from the last eight years from the comforts of our living rooms.
And many of us are likely to watch on Tuesday when the Bush era ends and Obama takes his seat in the White House to grapple with a devastated economy and two ongoing wars among the dozens of other problems facing our nation.
A lot will be written and said over the next week about Bush's time in the White House, likely some of it focusing on how history will ultimately judge his time in power.
As for Pfeifle, a North Dakotan who started his career managing a tiny radio station in his home town, he dropped everything to try his luck in Washington and found himself seated near the pinnacle of American power, what comes next is unclear except for maybe a trip home to see his mother in Casselton.
The nation's future also is unclear.
"It was a historic day in America when an African American was elected president for the United States," Pfeifle said. "That sends an amazing message both domestically and internationally. This is a time where we work together as one nation."
(Reach reporter Brian Duggan at 223-8482 or brian.duggan@;bismarcktribune.com.)