Sgt. Al Christianson of the Utah Highway Patrol is the quiet guy standing a few feet or so away from Gov. Mike Leavitt during many of the governor's public appearances.

And if Christianson's not there, he has scheduled the person who is.For security reasons, Christianson, who heads the governor's executive protection detail, doesn't like to talk publicly about what he does.

But, oh, the stories he could tell.

That's because the job means staying near the boss as he discusses the most sensitive political issues.

"We hear things we can never repeat. We're very, very trusted. He knows he can speak freely around us," Christianson said.

Some of those conversations occur during Leavitt's regular walks through City Creek Canyon and surrounding neighborhoods. Accompanying the governor on those outings is one of Chris-tian-son's favorite duties, because he gets a chance to get in some exercise on the job.

Not that he can relax once he's traded his business suit for jogging clothes.

"You have to be alert to what's going on," Christianson said. But it's better than some of the events on the governor's schedule.

"There's times when it's a hurry-up-and-wait situation. You have the stress of getting the governor to an event on time," he said, because the troopers assigned to the executive protection detail also serve as drivers.

"It's a prestigious job, but like a lot of jobs, it has its trade-offs. You get to see a lot of unique places, meet a lot of unique people and travel, but you're also at times spending a lot of long hours on your feet, which is very fatiguing.

"The downside is you'll go all day without eating, but there are times when you eat very well," he said.

"The standing is the worst part of it, the standing and the waiting. Yet you're still working, so you have to be alert."

Still, there are rewards. Since taking the job shortly after Leavitt was elected in November 1992, he's had the opportunity to travel to Washington, D.C., for the first time, when Leavitt was invited to attend the signing of the Middle East peace accord.

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"Seeing the president - that was the highlight of this position," Christianson said.

One of the worst moments was accompanying Leavitt and his son, Chase, into the Governor's Mansion just after fire ruined much of the interior, including nearly all of the family's personal possessions.

"It was pretty emotional," Christianson said. "Just the night before we had the governor's staff Christmas party (in the mansion). We have a real nice, elegant dinner up there and then to go back with the governor and see the beauty of the home destroyed . . . It was certainly one of the most memorable tragedies I'll experience."

By Lisa Riley Roche, Deseret News staff writer.

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