Service Members Rehearse Inauguration
By Jim Garamone and Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Jan. 17, 2001 The Army Herald Trumpets sound, the Marine Band breaks into an inauguration fanfare and the announcer says, Ladies and Gentlemen, the President-elect of the United States.
And out walks Army Staff Sgt. Michael Long with a sign around his neck reading President-elect.
Army Staff Sgt. Marshall R. Harris, 3rd U.S. Infantry (The Old Guard) inspects troops on the east Capitol steps as part of the Jan. 14 presidential inaugural rehearsal. Photo by Gerry J. Gilmore.
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
As he strode to the podium, a group of six planners huddles together nearby. The president-elect walks to "his" seat and stands waiting.
Everybody back! a planner says. Service members with signs around their necks saying President, Vice Presidents Spouse, Presidents daughter and others stand up and head back into the U.S. Capitol Building.
About 2,000 soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and Coast Guardsmen braved the chilly early morning and assembled at the Pentagon Jan. 14 to rehearse for the Jan. 20 presidential inauguration at the Capitol.
Putting on the inauguration of the leader of the Free World is more than just inviting a bunch of friends over to participate. It is a logistically complicated event planned to the minute. Service members rehearsed to ensure everything runs smoothly during Inauguration Day.
It all comes down to having everyone here and in place for president-elect to take the oath at noon, said one planner.
In the pre-dawn dark at the Pentagon, the north parking lot became a vast staging area as the thousands of service members converged. Buses picked up marching units, musicians, honor guards, communications specialists, ushers, medics and others, and deposited them at the correct areas at the Capitol.
The rehearsal pointed to some problem areas, said Air Force Master Sgt. Anne Proctor, a public affairs specialist. But everyone seems to be pretty pleased by whats gone on today.
The rehearsal had its glitches. Army Staff Sgt. Alec Maley had sung three measures into a set of patriotic songs when the music stopped. The Marine Band, dressed in BDU jackets rather than their ceremonial red coats, started over. Maley sang so well that the assembled re-enactors, ushers and officials gave him a glove-clad round of applause.
Even some props had stand-ins. Navy Lt. Christine Williams, the stand-in for Laura Bush, held an old encyclopedia that stood in for the Bible George W. Bush will actually use.
After the mock swearing in, the Bush family stood behind the podium and waved to the rows of empty seats.
After the ceremonies on the west side of the Capitol, facing the National Mall, service members rehearsed the inaugural parade. As dignitaries will on Jan. 20, the actors headed to the east side of the Capitol, away from the crowd.
Ceremonial troops including a 40-person honor cordon from all the services had been practicing on the east steps of the Capitol since before sunrise. Other service members practiced marching skills.
The military's rendering of honors and its other participation in presidential inaugurals represents civilian control over the military, said Army 1st Lt. Robert A. May, the 3rd U.S. Infantry (The Old Guard) officer in charge of the cordon. The tradition, he said, goes back to President George Washingtons time.
When the newly sworn-in President George W. Bush heads down the steps to his parade vehicle, he'll be escorted by Lewis and the other cordon team members.
Some troops are participating in their first inaugural, while others have been there before.
This is definitely going to be the biggest thing Ive ever done, said cordon member 20-year-old Coast Guard Seaman Michael B. Lewis. The Jacksonville, Fla., native, who has been in the Coast Guard just one year, stood to one side the east steps. He held a World War II-era M-1 Garand rifle topped by a chrome-plated bayonet.
Lewis and the other members of his team will form an honor cordon and escort the newly sworn-in President George W. Bush to his parade vehicle for his ride to the White House.
We perform many duties at the White House and Arlington Cemetery, so honors ceremonies arent new to us, said Marine Lance Cpl. Matthew L. Meeks, 22, from Dayton, Ohio. Meeks belongs to the Marine Corps Silent Drill platoon stationed at the Marine Barracks, on 8th and I streets a few blocks away. I think this is a great opportunity and a once-in-a-lifetime chance.
Army Staff Sgt. Marshall R. Harris, another Old Guard soldier and noncommissioned officer in charge of the honor cordon is a veteran at presidential inaugurations. He checked and inspected his troops as they worked their rifles through commands such as attention, present arms, and order arms as part of rendering honors for the new president.
This is my second inauguration. The world is seeing this, and you want your best troops here -- and they are, Harris said. It is just an honor to be here.
The stand-ins boarded their assigned parade rehearsal vehicles. A parade line formed and headed for Pennsylvania Avenue. Service members on both sides of the street lined the route to the White House.
As the "president's" Ford sport utility vehicle passed, all cracked off snappy salutes.