Military Prepares to Support Presidential Inaugural
By Master Sgt. Stephen Barrett, USA
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Dec. 17, 1996 President Bill Clinton will take the presidential oath of office at noon Jan. 20, beginning his final four-year term as the nation's chief executive and commander in chief.
The inaugural ceremony, which includes the swearing-in rituals for Clinton and Vice President Al Gore, the president's inaugural address and other activities, will last about an hour. The actual oath of office -- all 35 words -- will take the president about 25 seconds to recite.
Yet for hundreds of service members participating in the inauguration, the hour-long ceremony is only part of a nine-month tasking. For the members of the 1996 Armed Forces Inaugural Committee, the work will continue weeks after the ceremonies, parades and black-tie formals conclude.
Military participation is a traditional part of presidential inaugurations, dating to the first inaugural in 1789. When George Washington climbed the steps of New York's Federal Hall to take the nation's first oath of office, former members of the Continental Army escorted him.
Through the years, military units and bands marched and performed during inaugural functions, a show of military support to the new or re-elected commander in chief. Yet a formal military organization -- the forerunner of the Armed Forces Inaugural Committee -- didn't appear until the 1950s. President Dwight D. Eisenhower was the first to have committee support for his inauguration in 1952. Since then, every presidential inaugural has had an armed forces committee.
Although many project officers started inaugural support about a year ago, the 1996 version of the committee officially opened for business in July. Staffed with over 800 people, the joint service task force continues to coordinate military support to the inaugural. This support ranges from coordinating the participation of ceremonial units and bands to providing security, communications, transportation and medical support to service members behind the scenes.
The committee also assists -- within DoD guidelines -- the Presidential Inaugural Committee and the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies for events on Capitol Hill and throughout Washington. Those two organizations handle most major inaugural festivities and request color guards, escorts, honor cordons and other ceremonial events from the armed forces.
Washington-based units and bands will march in the inaugural parade, as well as form an honor cordon along the Pennsylvania Avenue parade route from Capitol Hill to the White House. Ceremonial troops will also provide color guards to official inaugural functions around Washington. Band members will have similar roles, performing in the parades, in concerts and in ensembles for smaller events.
The inaugural parade includes other military units from around the country. Air Force Capt. Jerry Lobb, a spokesman for the Armed Forces Inaugural Committee, said the Presidential Inaugural Committee will soon select the marching units.
Four years ago, an element of the Arkansas Army National Guard marched in the parade -- an honor bestowed on the unit from Clinton's home state. Traditionally, the U.S. Army Field Band from Fort Meade, Md., leads the inaugural parade past the presidential reviewing stand. Units that follow include tactical units from the five military services, Reserve and National Guard troops, and students from the four service academies.
Although ceremonial and musical support units may be the most visible part of an inaugural, they're far from the only part. Behind the scenes are the support troops who provide transportation, communications, medical support and force protection to those involved in inaugural events.
Spearheading efforts is the committee's joint operations center at the Suitland (Md.) Federal Center. This round-the-clock center monitors all events leading to the inauguration and those immediately following.
"We need to be able to handle any situation that comes up -- before, during or after the inaugural," said Navy Chief Petty Officer Dave Samuel, a shift leader, "and we have to do it in a manner that allows the inauguration to continue without a hitch. We can do that from here.
"If we've got a busload of troops from Fort Meade and they run into a traffic accident, we've got the law enforcement people here to help them find an alternate route," said Samuel. "If there's an problem involving units along the parade route, we've got the people on-site that can feed us the information and get them the help they need."
To prepare staffers for possible problems, the Armed Forces Inaugural Committee holds periodic exercises, testing possible scenarios right up to the actual event. "We've had a couple of these exercises with just military members so far," said Samuel. "As we get closer, we'll get more participation from the local and federal agencies who want to be sure everything will run smoothly."
The committee also receives requests from other government agencies to provide logistical support -- requests that must go through a thorough screening process before receiving approval. "We haven't gotten a lot of requests from the two other [inaugural] committees so far, but it's still early," said Navy Cmdr. Dave Gruber, chief of the Armed Forces Inaugural Committee Support Request Division. "The presidential committee is now just getting started, so we do expect the requests to pick up as we get closer to the inaugural."
Gruber said he holds a daily meeting with logistics planners to review requests. "DoD public affairs has final say for all nonmilitary support requests," said Gruber, "but before we forward that request, we need to make certain that other agencies or firms are unable to fulfill their requests."
In reviewing requests, Gruber said, organizations must use equipment available from either commercial sources or the General Services Administration. "Government agencies must go through those avenues before they can come to us," said Gruber.
Although the Armed Forces Inaugural Committee does have law enforcement assets assigned, most are supporting force protection issues at the Suitland headquarters. "Most of the inaugural law enforcement is being handled by the FBI, U.S. Secret Service, Park Service and D.C. police," said Navy Master Chief Petty Officer Lawrence Mehlenbacher, the committee's senior enlisted adviser for law enforcement.
The committee's military police section handles building security, personnel credentialing and law enforcement liaison duties with local and federal police. "We're available if needed but our role here is mainly force protection," said Mehlenbacher.
Although most inaugural activities will end Jan. 20, many of the service members will remain in Suitland well into March. Once the presidential ceremonies end, the committee focuses on completing after-action reports and preparing the necessary documents for the next inauguration.
"Every time the [inaugural] cycle gets more elaborate," said Army Capt. Jonathan Mundt, chief of the Communications Operations Division. "The folks in 1992 had footlockers and footlockers full of reports, charts and old floppy disks that we had to sift through to find what we needed," he said.
"When we close this inaugural out, we hope to have everything on CDs [compact disks] in compatible formats," said Mundt. "We know technology will change in four years, but we hope our replacements in 2000 can benefit from what we've learned this year."