Troops High on President's Inaugural Priority List
By Lt. Cmdr. Pamela Warnken, USN
Special to American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Dec. 15, 2004 With six weeks to go until the inauguration, the term "Presidential Inaugural Committee" gets bandied about daily in the nation's papers, but the armed forces are emerging as a central focus of the Jan. 20 inauguration.
Truth be told, there are many "inaugural committees" focused on every aspect from armed forces ceremonial support to law enforcement to the swearing-in ceremony on the Capitol steps. But there's one main one: the Presidential Inaugural Committee, whose members are hand-picked by the president-elect and his party.
Other than the oath ceremony, which is overseen by the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies, the PIC has ultimate responsibility for ensuring inaugural festivities meet the incoming president's desires. For this inauguration, the PIC was named just before Thanksgiving.
This distinguished group, many under the age of 30, have six weeks to arrange every detail of each inaugural event, said Air National Guard Brig. Gen. Duane Lodrige, who directs the day-to-day work of the Joint Task Force Armed Forces Inaugural Committee.
Noting the armed forces have helped inaugurate every commander in chief since George Washington in 1789, Lodrige said those in uniform, especially deployed troops, will be a central theme in the 55th Presidential Inauguration, at the direction of the president.
"The first family always guides the tone of inaugural events," he said. For example, it was at Dolley Madison's insistence that the first inaugural ball was held in 1809, beginning a wildly popular tradition.
"While plans are still being formulated, we've been told by the president's inaugural team that festivities will honor the contributions of our armed forces with the theme: 'Celebrating Freedom, Honoring Service,' the general said. "There will be a pre-inaugural gala called 'America's Heroes: A Salute to Those Who Serve.'" Other military-appreciation events will follow during inaugural week.
With nearly 140,000 troops serving in Iraq and even more deployed in other worldwide locations, Lodrige said the Presidential Inauguration Committee is seizing this occasion to focus Americans' attention on the work U.S. forces are doing to promote democracy.
"We're here to help the president's inaugural team stage one of the most patriotic events of American life," Lodrige said, noting the task force's mission for Jan. 20 is to coordinate the feeding, transportation, medical and command/control requirements for almost 10,000 ceremonial participants, both civilian and military.
"As we complete these tasks here in the nation's capital," Lodrige said, "we will do it with extra motivation because we know that the president is adding special honors for our brothers and sisters serving their nation in harm's way."
(Navy Lt. Cmdr. Pamela Warnken heads the Command Information Division, Joint Task Force Armed Forces Inaugural Committee Public Affairs.)