News: National Guard contributes to joint inauguration mission
Story by Staff Sgt. Jim Greenhill
By Army Staff Sgt. Jim Greenhill
National Guard Bureau
ARLINGTON, Va. – About 9,300 National Guard citizen-soldiers and –airmen joined thousands of service members from all components supporting the 56th Presidential Inauguration on Tuesday.
"We've always depended on the National Guard," Al Roker said in a break between live remote segments as weather anchor for NBC's Today show from the parade staging area outside the Pentagon.
After the terrorist attacks of 9/11, "Suddenly, the National Guard took on a whole new meaning," Roker said. "So it's only fitting that at one of the most secure inaugurals, the National Guard would be involved. When it comes down to our security, both domestically and internationally, the National Guard is obviously an integral part of that."
While National Guard members from a dozen different states and the District of Columbia provided communications, transport, traffic control and medical and logistical support to civilian authorities staging the inauguration, some citizen-soldiers and –Airmen joined service members from all components who were marching in the inaugural parade.
Army Sgt. 1st Class Anthony Gardner, with the District of Columbia National Guard's recruiting and retention command, was one of the marchers. "This is a historic moment, and I wanted to be a part of history," Gardner said. "The National Guard is the oldest military organization in the country. It's fitting that the National Guard is represented."
Tuesday saw the National Guard make its largest contribution to a presidential inauguration since Minutemen gathered for the First Muster in Massachusetts more than 372 years ago.
"This is a historic first," said Air Force Gen. Craig McKinley, the chief of the National Guard Bureau. "The National Guard is contributing not only to the federal response overseas, but we're also working very closely with our states and our governors. The inauguration is another example of how all our states, territories and the District of Columbia are performing their jobs."
The day began as early as 2 a.m. for service members, and their duties were scheduled to run into the evening. But troops said they would not trade the opportunity, and many said they were deeply proud to be a part of the inauguration on both a personal and professional level.
Air Force Senior Airman Jodi Leininger came to the Military District of Washington at the start of the year for a two-month mission to document the military's contribution to the inauguration for historical purposes.
As a result, this self-proclaimed "small-town girl" from a graduating class of just 48 students who serves with the 180th Fighter Wing, Ohio Air National Guard, got to photograph the president-elect during the run-up to the inauguration.
"That was, to me, like the biggest opportunity of my life," Leininger said. "Having the opportunity to take a picture of our first African-American president – my new commander in chief – was exciting."
It was 20 degrees and windy outside the Pentagon when parade participants gathered before dawn on Tuesday. "Bone-chilling," Army Spc. Angela Harper of the District of Columbia National Guard's 276th Military Police Company called it, shivering.
Would she rather be anywhere else? "This is a wonderful moment in time, and I'm privileged to have this opportunity," Harper said. "I would do it again, and again, and again."
"I've been colder," Roker said. "I've been on remotes where it's 10 degrees below with a wind chill of 40 below."
He had been colder, but in a journalism career spanning more than 34 years, Roker said he could remember few more significant assignments. "This is about as important as it gets," he said. "It reaffirms that this is the greatest democracy in history, that every four or eight years there is a peaceful, orderly, normal transition. Many places in the world, this is an anomaly. We are the model."
Army Lt. Col. Xavier Brunson, 1st Battalion, 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 82nd Airborne Division, brought about 100 Soldiers from Fort Bragg, N.C., to represent the Regular Army in the parade.
"The opportunity we have to participate in this transfer of government is exciting to myself and my paratroopers," Brunson said.
Many of the paratroopers had never been to the District of Columbia before, and they visited sites such as Arlington Cemetery.
"It was very inspiring for a lot of the young paratroopers," said Army Capt. Scott McKay, also with the 504th PIR.
Leininger said the National Guard made a huge contribution before and during the inauguration but what struck her most was how servicemembers from all components pulled together as a team. "It was just one big group," she said.
Navy Comdr. Craig Kujawa led part of that group as chief of the Parade Division of the Ceremonies Directorate of the Armed Forces Inaugural Committee.
He called the assembly of more than 200 horses and 300 busloads of marchers a logistical miracle. "Every service is represented," he said. "It's a wonderful experience."
Both the Army and the Air National Guard were represented in the parade, Kujawa said, and both pieces of the Guard contributed to the preparations for and execution of the event.
Army Reservist Sgt. 1st Class Greg Ramsdell supervised Soldiers for escort duties for parade participants that included Guardmembers. "The contribution is enormous," Ramsdell said of Guardmembers, who have dual roles, both civilians and Soldiers. "They give you an element of both the civilian sector and the military sector," he said.
"It's an awesome opportunity," said Marine Staff Sgt. Samuel Bass, among 100 active-duty Marines and 100 Marine Reservists who represented the Marine Corps. "We're privileged."
"I never thought I would live to see this day," Roker said. "It is the fulfillment of the American dream. Every parent has said to their child, 'You, too, can some day grow up to be president,' and we saw in this election that you had the possibility of an African-American being president, of a woman being president, or a woman being vice-president. That pretty much says it all."
Army Master Sgt. Jeff Lopez, a clarinetist with the U.S. Army Field Band that led the parade, was focused on the meaning of the day for the armed forces. "It represents a military change of command," Lopez said. "As a military change of command ceremony would happen on a post, so that's what we're doing today – and we're changing our commander in chief."
Army Sgt. 1st Class Mark Stallworth, a reservist, said he would never forget marching.
"I can tell my son," Stallworth said. "My grandchildren. Great-grands. This is something that you can always say that you were a part of, pass it down the line. Call home to your mother and father, 'Hey, mom, look at me!' "
The night before the inauguration, Gen. McKinley stopped for as moment on his way to his Pentagon office to continue monitoring the Guard's contribution. "Our Guardsmen will ... be visible, they will be out in the crowd, and they will be working alongside their civilian counterparts and will be there if needed to respond to any type of emergency," the chief promised. "I'm looking forward to a very safe, enjoyable and peaceful event."
By all accounts, that's exactly what the nation got on Tuesday.