DoD Prepares for Nation's Change of Command
By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Aug. 22, 2000 Jan. 20, 2001, nearly 5,000 service members will take part in the nation's 54th presidential inauguration. A core group of military planners, logisticians and operations officers is working to make it happen.
Members of the Armed Forces Inaugural Committee have been arriving here since January, setting up temporary offices at L'Enfant Plaza in a Government Services Administration building due for renovation. The AFIC is paving the way for the Presidential Inaugural Committee, a nongovernmental organization from the president-elect's party that will conduct the inaugural events.
The PIC will begin work following the November election and will be collocated in the same building as the AFIC. In the meantime, the AFIC is setting the stage based on precedents set during previous inaugurations.
DoD guidelines outline what support the military can provide. The committee has a $4.1 million operating budget allocated over two fiscal years. Nonexpendable items purchased for use in connection with the inauguration, such as computers and cameras, have an ultimate destination already identified within the military.
In late August, about 180 of the planned AFIC staff of 697 were on board laying the foundation for the historic events. Army Lt. Col. Bob Michaud of San Antonio, AFIC deputy logistics director, was among the first to arrive. "We hit the road running, and we never stop," he said.
"We were given a shell of a building and told to furnish it, prepare for everybody, establish supply lines, prepare for transportation and facility requirements, make everything work throughout the entire inaugural period and then take it back to square one," he recalled. "The entire process will take a total of 15 months."
Tradition is the basis of the military support honoring the new commander in chief, according to Army Brig. Gen. Nick Perkins, the committee's deputy director. The military has taken part in the inauguration since George Washington took office as the nation's first president.
Military participation reaffirms civilian control of the military, lends a sense of patriotism to the inaugural events and showcases the armed forces, Perkins said. The committee's mission is to coordinate DoD support during the 10-day inaugural period from Jan. 15 to the 24.
"We're pulling together the logistics -- transportation, communications," he said. "We're working our way through how we're going to feed and house thousands of people during that inaugural period. Then we'll put together an operations plan that is rehearsed and executed to precision, just like we would if we were going into a combat operation."
Active duty and reserve members from all five services will have a chance to work on the high-visibility, joint operation, said Perkins, who hails from Aiken, S.C. Forming people with diverse backgrounds and experiences into one cohesive team able to focus on one particular issue, he said, represents a unique challenge.
"This is a tremendous task, but at the same time a tremendous opportunity to see our government at work up close and personal," the general said. "Quite honestly, we'll all be able to tell our grandkids stories in years to come, having been a part of this particular event."
While the AFIC's focus is on the ceremonial aspects of the inauguration, the general noted, there are also safety and security concerns. "We will make contingency plans that take into account bad weather, civil disturbances, terrorist acts -- we certainly hope that none of those happen, but we'll be prepared."
Late January in the District of Columbia can be downright frigid. Perkins has issued orders calling for sunshine, 57 degrees, no more than 5-knot winds and 0 percent humidity on Inauguration Day. "It's in the operations plan," an AFIC spokesman joked.
Coast Guard Capt. Mike Brown of Bel Air, Md., is the AFIC's deputy director of ceremonies. His section is coordinating the color guards, military bands, ceremonial units and others that will participate in the parade and inaugural ceremony. In addition to the parade units, about 1,800 service members will form an honor cordon from the White House to the Capitol.
"When the president walks down Pennsylvania Avenue, he'll be followed by the presidential escort made up of ceremonial units of all five services, along with senior service officers and the Military District of Washington Commander and AFIC Director Army Maj. Gen. James T. Jackson," Brown said.
Service members will also support galas and balls that occur after the inauguration ceremony. "This kind of support generally consists of a joint-service color guard, as well as musical support," Brown said. "Generally, the Herald Trumpets will do the ruffles and flourishes and 'Hail to the Chief,' if and when the president should decide to attend a particular function."
Brown suspects his biggest challenge is going to be "absorbing about a tenfold increase in people in a short period of time, getting them trained and getting them on the street, at the parade site, at the Capitol or wherever their site is, to do what they need to do." But the 27-year Coast Guard veteran has no doubts about the military's 'can do' spirit.
"We are the organization that can always be relied upon no matter what the circumstances," he said. "We have a strong chain of command and an organizational background that permits us to ramp up, to bring in a lot of people -- that's already pre- structured. People know their roles and can fall into those roles relatively easily."
In a broader vein, Brown said, the inauguration represents democracy's peaceful transfer of power. "When you are the most powerful nation in the world," he said, "everybody looks up to you, some with envy, some with resentment, but everybody looks up to you, so it's important to do it and do it right. I'm happy to be part of it."
Another AFIC member sees the inauguration as an opportunity to "live a part of history firsthand." Navy Capt. Russ Pendergrass, a reservist from Fruit Heights, Utah, volunteered to serve as the committee's director for supply and logistics.
"It's the first inauguration of the century, the first president and first commander in chief of the century," he said. "I'd like to be able to tell my grandchildren and great-grandchildren, hopefully, that I took part in it."
The logistics team plays a big part behind the scenes, Pendergrass said, providing everything from more than 100 drivers for VIPs to command post electrical generators. They rely on previous committees' accumulated legacy -- SOPs, notes and after-action reports. "We have SOPS from past inaugurations for transportation, supplies and services, engineering," he said.
Lessons learned during past events are taken into account today, Pendergrass noted. "People who have horses in the parade, for example, have to sign a certificate that says if their horse is injured during the parade, we have the right to put that horse down. It's not something I would have thought of, but it's happened in the past."
"The big thing that's changed between now and the last AFIC is the communication capabilities," the captain said. "Last AFIC they were using very heavy radios. Now we're using cell phones, which are much easier to handle.
Two combat arms officers, Marine Corps Maj. Gary Zegley, operations director, and his assistant, Army Capt. Tom Carnell, will head the AFIC's Joint Operations Center. Their charter is to handle anything that may arise during the 10-day inaugural period.
The operations center will be the hub for coordinating and controlling all the military activities. Representatives of the FBI, Secret Service, U.S. Park Police and District of Columbia Emergency Management Association will work with the military team. "We'll have everybody we may need to interface with standing by," said Carnell, of Fairfax, Va.
The operations section is also preparing for a gamut of contingencies, everything from a horse going lame to an assassination attempt. "We're used to dealing with very fluid situations," he said. "We have a set of rules, we have a plan and we go forward and react to whatever happens."
Maintaining perspective and staying focused on the mission will be crucial, he added. "One of the challenges I think we're going to face is lots of reports coming in from different places. That's where we come in as the watch officers, to say, 'Hold on a second. Calm down. I got your report. How about some clarification? Tell me what's going on.'"
Zegley, of Ambler, Pa., echoed Carnell's view. "Tom is a tanker in the Army," he said. "I'm an infantry officer in the Marine Corps. So to a degree, I think part of the reason we're here is because we are able to handle a lot of different things going on at one time under a large degree of pressure and keep smiling at the same time, which will be a critical skill here during all of this."
No matter how much planning the military team does, it's all only groundwork for the Presidential Inaugural Committee. Zegley said the armed forces committee can readily adapt to meet the civilian committee's needs.
"There's an old saying that no plan survives first contact with the enemy," he said. "Once you're into the fight, whatever you've planned is no longer going to apply. You have to adjust on the fly. You have to react, and act proactively, to achieve the goal you had initially set -- but you may not achieve it in exactly the way you thought."
The two operations officers said they've mused that if they had to, they could execute their plan next week instead of several months from now.
"Would there be a lot of scrambling going on?" Zegley asked. "Absolutely. Would there be a lot of feathers ruffled? Absolutely. Would it seem like chaos at times? Absolutely."
"But could we do it?" Carnell asked and both officers replied, "Absolutely."
For more information on the Armed Forces Inaugural Committee go to: www.afic.army.mil.