Assembling Inaugural Parade Big Job in Icy Temps
By Kathleen T. Rhem
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Jan. 20, 2005 Thousands of people began assembling in the Pentagon parking lot this morning in the frigid pre-dawn hours to ensure the presidential inaugural parade stepped off down Pennsylvania Avenue just as planned.
As military marching units from all services and components, high-school and community bands, and drill teams of all ages gathered across the Potomac River from Washington, D.C., members of the Joint Task Force Armed Forces Inaugural Committee were setting up on the National Mall, between the U.S. Capitol and the Washington Monument, to get the groups in the right order.
Once the units arrived on the National Mall, the scene could best be described as organized chaos. Five warehouse-sized warming tents with chairs, snacks and drinks were available to make the marchers comfortable during their wait. Warming up right alongside the military units were pre-teen pom-pom girls from Arizona, high-school-aged "southern belles" in pastel hoop skirts, and grizzled New York City police officers and firemen wearing plaid kilts and playing bagpipes.
Outside the tents, long lines formed for the portable toilets, as band members in every ilk of uniform imaginable practiced their music or blew on their fingers to warm them.
"I'm definitely glad they have tents today, because it was cold during practice," said Army Spc. Simon Colby, a member Company C of the 3rd U.S. Infantry, the Army's storied "Old Guard." Today's temperature hovered in the upper 20s and low 30s while the units were assembling. They had been similar during practices throughout the previous week.
Old Guard soldiers are accustomed to high-profile events. Sgt. Ryan Watson, also a member of Company C, said he participated in President Ronald Reagan's funeral and the retirement ceremony for Army Chief of Staff Gen. Eric Shinseki. Still, he added, today's inaugural parade is a pretty big deal.
"It's probably about the biggest thing that I've ever been involved in," he said, noting that his parents would be glued to the television at their home in the Texas panhandle.
Marines from the U.S. Marine Barracks at 8th and I Streets here have also participated in many high-profile events, including Reagan's funeral. After Reagan died, leathernecks from the base's Company B flew to California to be part of ceremonial events on the West Coast.
Among them was Cpl. Brooks Grado, who also marched in today's inaugural parade. Grado, a three-year Marine veteran, said the men in his unit try to place the same importance and care on every ceremonial event they perform.
"This (the parade), to me, doesn't take a more important role than burying a lance corporal that died over in Iraq or a sergeant major that died after 20 years service to the Marine Corps," he said.
Another member of his unit, Lance Cpl. Nathan Hockenberry, of Newberg, Pa., agreed. "Doing this, we're still trying to maintain the level that we're always at," Hockenberry said. "We're not at a higher level now as opposed to being at a funeral. We're still maintaining the level that we like to stay at."
The marching units arrived on the mall in the five "divisions" they would march in, a member of the JTF-AFIC explained. Each division was to be led by marching units and bands from a military service -- in the order the services were founded.
For instance, the Army -- the senior service -- led off the first division. The Marine Corps headed up the second division, then the Navy, Air Force and Coast Guard, which, while older than the Air Force, is not part of the Department of Defense.
Each unit knew what its position in the parade was going to be. This made it easier to explain to loved ones where to look for them. "My parents were thrilled when they found out I was marching (in the inaugural parade)," Marine Lance Cpl. Warren Ballard, of Thomasville, Ga., said. "They asked all the questions about where I was at in the formation. My mom's got the VCR ready."
Grado, a Dallas native, called marching in this parade "one of those once-in-a- lifetime events that you get to partake in and get to tell your grandkids about."
"This is an extreme privilege," he added. "President Bush is from Texas; I'm from Texas as well. He was the governor there while I was a resident of Texas."
And would Grado's parents be watching back home in Dallas? "They better be," he said. "They better be taping."