Parade Staff Keeps Things Moving on Pennsylvania Avenue
By Sgt. 1st Class Kathleen T. Rhem, USA
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Jan. 22, 2001 Army Lt. Col. Rucker Snead was awakened Jan. 20 by a 2 a.m. phone call. He had been preparing for this day since Aug. 15, and his day had just begun. He was off and running.
Sailors carry an oversized American flag up Pennsylvania Avenue during the inaugural parade for President Bush. The U.S. Capitol is in the background. Photo by Sgt. 1st Class Kathleen T. Rhem, USA.
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Snead was the officer in charge of the Parade Division of the Armed Forces Inaugural Committee. Among his other problems at that moment, only 100 credentials were ready of the 200 he wanted for his presidential inaugural parade staff. He and the Secret Service would have to coordinate a solution fast. Eventually, he received generic credentials for folks deemed essential.
While Snead answered that 2 a.m. phone call, though, his noncommissioned officer in charge, Marine Master Sgt. Jerry Blandford, was already in Washington. He needed the early start to get 10,481 people, 370 horses and 15 floats lined up and started down Pennsylvania Avenue on time despite roughly 3,000 protesters and intermittent freezing rain.
Blandford and Snead led a team of 251 service members responsible for making the parade happen. On Inauguration Day, their staff was located at dozens of key spots along the parade route. Seven monitored activities and coordinated events from a cramped, temporary trailer set up at the starting line, the corner of Constitution and Pennsylvania avenues. Here are some highlights from their day.
10:22 a.m. -- Air Force Tech. Sgt. Tom Tenner, an information manager from F.E. Warren Air Force Base, Wyo., answers one of the dozen phones in the command post trailer. The horse response unit that is supposed to be stationed on Third Street hasn't shown up. He reports this to Snead and Blandford and starts making calls to try to locate the team.
Snead explained the horse response units are critical if anything happens involving a horse. If a horse is sick or injured, pre-positioned veterinarians and "horse ambulances" are ready to deal with it, for instance.
Blandford had earlier said a horse dying on the route is one of the worst-case scenarios he could think of, and consequently one of the most planned for. Snead said a more likely scenario is a horse pulling up lame.
10:45 a.m. -- Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Melinda Larson is worried. A reserve journalist from Las Vegas, Larson is in charge of writing the script for the seven announcers along the parade route.
Someone has told her the Ross Volunteers marching unit from Texas A&M University has added another element. All Larson knows is the element is called "Old Glory," and she's desperately trying to find out more details to add to the script.
"I need something for my announcers to say," she tells Blandford. "I don't want them to say the wrong thing."
"This is what I do," he responds, reaching for one of the many radios in the parade command post. "I find answers." He doesn't get a good one, though, so neither does Larson.
She crosses her fingers and tells the announcers to be aware the Ross Volunteers have another element and to "wing it."
11 a.m. -- Snead puts a call out to everyone on the parade network: The uniform for all military participants in the parade is "with raincoats." The weather has been holding, with little rain and temperatures consistently above freezing. But Snead has heard a weather report that the temperature will drop by midafternoon, followed by light rain, sleet and maybe even snow.
"Even that won't stop us," Blandford explains. "The only thing that will stop us is if the temperature drops below about 25 degrees (Fahrenheit)."
Snead had earlier said one of his first thoughts that morning had been to hope the temperature didn't drop too early and "create truly dangerous winter conditions."
Salt trucks would be coming through soon to salt the entire parade route in case the temperature drops below freezing and the roads get slippery. "That would be dangerous, particularly for the horses," Snead says.
12:15 p.m. -- A call comes in. Someone in the horse staging area is sick with flu-like symptoms. Tenner makes one call, and a medic is en route to the area within a few minutes.
12:30 p.m. -- The protest groups are getting more active, particularly between 13th and 15th streets. This is along the parade route, so the situation bears constant monitoring.
12:45 p.m. -- Another call comes in. Someone has been kicked by a horse. A medic is dispatched. About 20 minutes later, more details are available. The individual, an Army corporal, was kicked in the head. An on-scene medic has determined he has a concussion, but is not in immediate danger. He will stay in a warming tent throughout the parade and visit the emergency room after.
1:08 p.m. -- The two team members at Checkpoint 2 frantically tell the command post via radio that explosive ordnance personnel recommend they evacuate. An unidentified package has been found under their trailer. Snead runs out the door for their location at 7th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue.
At the same time, yet another phone rings, and Tenner learns that a busload of parade participants has gone to the wrong location. Even as he waits for word from Checkpoint 2, Tenner calmly directs them to the right place.
In two minutes, Snead returns. False alarm. Someone came forward and claimed the suspect package.
The calm is short-lived.
1:45 p.m. -- Two service members at a different checkpoint are evacuating because protesters completely surrounded their trailer. The two safely move across the street as they watch the crowd bump and thump their trailer.
"We just want to get out of their way and let them do what they want," Blandford says of the protesters. "We'll just let law enforcement personnel deal with them."
Still, the command post staff doesn't appear to be rattled. "You just deal with it one piece at a time," Blandford says.
1:50 p.m. -- It's getting close to show time. Snead tells his staff that if they need to use the restroom, they'd better do it now. "It's going to start getting real busy here."
2:12 p.m. -- The District of Columbia's deputy chief of police reports the parade route is secure. The staff begins making final preparations for the parade to step off from the start point, right in front of the command post trailer.
2:18 p.m. -- The parade elements are lined up and waiting for the word to start. They are waiting for the newly sworn-in president, vice president and the mayor of Washington to travel in a motorcade from the Capitol to the White House. Once the motorcade passes the parade start point, Snead will begin a 10-minute count to give the officials time to get settled in the reviewing stand at the White House.
Larson looks up and says in wonderment, "Hey, we didn't have to do a pull-out. Not one."
Blandford explains that the parade script consists of one page for each element of the parade, explaining who they are and where they come from. Each announcer has a copy of the script. "If an element doesn't make it, the announcers have to be notified to 'pull-out' that page," he said. Apparently, everyone has made it to the right location on time.
2:51 p.m. -- The presidential escort begins moving down Constitution Avenue toward the turn onto Pennsylvania. Most of the command post staffers take their radios and move outside to watch the new president pass.
3:24 p.m. -- President Bush has reached the White House, and 90 seconds are left to the countdown. Tenner runs out of the command post to tell Snead to halt the countdown. City police report that protesters have gotten past them onto the parade route.
3:26 p.m. -- Police clear the street quickly. "Go ahead," Snead calls out. "Move 'em on out."
For the most part, the parade staff has done its job. Many begin to relax and enjoy the parade. Tenner is thrilled when Wyoming's All-State High School Marching Band passes him. "Oh, I should have taken a picture for my wife," he laments after they've passed.
Naval Reserve Petty Officer 2nd Class Vicki Stinnett, who lives in Rockville, Md., is equally thrilled when the University of Tennessee marching band passes playing "Rocky Top." A Tennessee native, Stinnett learns from her co- worker's mistake and manages to grab her camera in time.
4:15 p.m. -- Blandford checks the batteries in his radio. "I haven't heard anything in a while," he says. "The protesters must have decided to settle down and enjoy the parade."
4:25 p.m. -- Larson is laughing hysterically. Texas A&M's "Old Glory" just passed. The mystery element she had been so concerned about earlier turns out to be four people carrying an American flag.
4:58 p.m. -- The last element in the parade, a float carrying Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, crosses the starting line for the White House.
Instead of cheering or sighing in relief, command post workers watch the float go by and then jump back into action. They still have plenty to do.
So far, 10 stragglers have been found along the parade route and need to be reunited with their organizations. One University of Nebraska band member has been taken to a hospital. The parade staff will continue to monitor her status and make sure her group knows where she is.
"We'll be here until the last person gets in their bus and leaves tonight," Blandford says. In the meantime, his staff is busy cleaning up the trailer and packing equipment, sparing only the phones, radios and the logbooks.
Larson calls the cleanup anti-climactic. "When we were building up to the parade, it was a big rush," she says. "Now I feel like I'm just crashing." Maybe it has something to do with the fact that she's been up since about 1 a.m. as well.
Still, she says it's a good feeling to be part of such a historical event. "Think about it, the script that I wrote will be going into the National Archives," she says.
5:29 p.m. -- The Scouts cross the finish line. The parade is officially over.
"That's it, ladies and gentlemen!" Stinnett announces to no one in particular. "We are now a piece of history!"
The rest of the parade command post staff pauses. They look at each other and silently go back to packing and cleaning.