OIF Veterans Engage Democracy Here and Abroad
By Sgt. 1st Class Doug Sample, USA
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Nov. 16, 2004 Servicemembers who helped bring democracy to Iraq during Operation Iraqi Freedom are now helping ensure that the democratic process moves forward here at home.
Naval Reservist Petty Officer 2nd Class Tajuanna Donaldson
volunteered to work at Joint Task Force Armed Forces Inaugural Committee.
During Operation Iraqi Freedom she on- and off-loaded cargo ships. She works in
the supply directorate at JTF-AFIC, and is procuring the equipment and supplies
the committee needs to support the Inauguration. Photo by Sgt. 1st Class Doug
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
For Marine 1st Lt. Timothy Anderlonis, Army Sgt. Cameron Baker, and Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Tajuanna Donaldson, that process began shortly after the Nov. 2 elections and will culminate when President Bush takes the Oath of Office on the steps of the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 20, 2005, to begin his second term.
There on Inauguration Day, somewhere in the crowd of thousands, the three Iraqi war veterans will be making sure the ceremonies for their commander in chief goes smoothly.
"To be part of the greatest change-of-command ceremony in the world is exciting," Baker explained. "I've been to quite a few -- seeing four-star and three-star generals -- and going to their parades, but none of those can compare to the magnitude of things we're about to see here."
As part of the Joint Task Force Armed Forces Inaugural Committee, the three servicemembers have joined about 240 others who have worked for more than a year behind the scenes organizing all military aspects supporting the Inauguration.
Military involvement in the ceremony dates back to 1789 when Army Gen. George Washington was sworn in as president.
Today, Anderlonis, 26, a military police officer for the security division of Marine Corps headquarters here, will be serving as a liaison officer helping to coordinate security with local law-enforcement agencies.
Baker, 27, who came to Washington from 5th Corps in Heidelberg, Germany, and spent 16 months in Iraq, is a communications server administrator. His job on Inauguration Day will be to ensure that communications are clear for the inaugural committee staff to talk to one another.
Meanwhile, Donaldson, 40, a supply petty officer in the Naval Reserve, has been helping the committee's supply directorate procure equipment and supplies that will be needed in the trailers housing AFIC staff.
Although these servicemembers are far removed from their war-zone duties in Iraq and Kuwait, their experiences there have given them a greater understanding of why democracy is important.
Baker, who spent 16 months in Iraq setting up communications networks, notes "to be over there (Iraq) helping build a democracy, then to come here and see what the foundations of democracy can provide -- definitely I see what the Iraqi people over there are struggling to achieve, and some are still struggling to understand." But "by most opinions they feel that this [democracy] is what they want," he added.
Anderlonis was with the first wave of Marines to cross into Iraq, traveling with an MP convoy and following the path paved by the Army's 3rd Infantry Division.
"Anywhere we can give people the opportunity to elect their officials, to live in a free society, I think that's the greatest," he explained. "Where somebody can just be free, and have free speech and freedom of the press, those principles are what make this country so great."
He said the when his detachment arrived in Baghdad, they were welcomed openly. "They treated us great, they came up to us willingly. The kids would come up to us and offer us gifts and we would give them candy out of our MREs just to return the favor."
"Even their parents would wave and cheer us on as we passed thorough the cities," he said.
Donaldson, assigned to the Navy Cargo Handling Battalion, Williamsburg, Va., worked 12-hour shifts loading and unloading supplies from cargo ships in Kuwait, said she is too proud of her experience.
She noted it made her glad she was a part of "making democracy happen" for the people of Iraq. "That is something the United States can look back and say: 'We made it [democracy] happen, we put forth an effort to make democracy happen in that country.'"