Airmen Kick Off Inauguration Day Preparing for Parade
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
ANDREWS AIR FORCE BASE, Md., Jan. 20, 2009 Air Force Maj. Geraldine Holmes-Barnett remembers boarding a bus in Ohio when she was just 9 years old to hear Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream Speech” during the 1963 March on Washington.
Air Force airmen on Andrews Air Force Base, Md., board a bus en route to Washington, D.C., to march in the Inauguration Day parade, Jan. 20, 2009. DoD photo by Donna Miles
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
That memory came full circle his morning as the 54-year-old African-American nurse with the 779th Medical Group waited here at the base club for another bus – this one transporting her and other active-duty airmen to march in President Barack Obama’s inaugural parade.
“I knew that this would happen in my lifetime, but I thought it would be when I was 90 or 100 years old,” she said of the inauguration of the nation’s first African-American president. “And now that I have the privilege to be a part of it, I still don’t believe it. I just want to be there in the moment.”
Excitement and anticipation filled the Andrews club as Holmes-Barnett and about 70 other airmen gathered at 6 a.m. to prepare for the march. They’ll travel to nearby Bolling Air Force Base to pick up additional Air Force marchers, then head out to a staging area at the Pentagon.
Air Force Capt. Christopher Karins, officer in charge of the 316th Wing contingency, estimated that the airmen will begin the 1.5-mile march from the Capitol to the White House at about 4 p.m.
“It’s going to be a while because we’re toward the back half of the parade,” he said. “But that’s okay. At least it’s warmer today than it was for the rehearsal. And being a little cold is a small price to pay for the opportunity to be here to see history as it occurs.”
Air Force Maj. Gen. Ralph Jodice, commander of the Air Force District of Washington, reflected on the magnitude of the day as he circulated through the room, shaking hands and wishing the airmen well.
“This is a great opportunity for everybody. It’s a historical event, a monumental event,” he said. “And it’s happening at a crucial time in our nation, with a lot of problems to confront.
“We in the military are here to support the president,” he continued. “We’ve been doing that since 1789.”
Jodice, who will lead the parade along with his counterparts from the Army, Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard, called it an honor for him and his airmen to participate. “We’re representing all the military, no matter what uniform,” he said.
“But we’re also representing all those men and women who are deployed. Because without them and what they are doing, we wouldn’t be here doing this today.”
As Jodice moved through the room, the airmen readied their uniforms for their departure. Most wore long underwear under their service blue uniforms and had liners in their coats and all had gloves and scarves to shield them from the cold.
Air Force Master Sgt. Eric Mikkelsen from the 844th Communications Squadron showed the airmen a trick to keep their wool scarves in perfect form. He stretched strips of duct tape out on a counter, overlapping them slightly, then transferred the mass of tape to the back of a scarf. “It’s an honor guard thing,” he said.
The airmen followed Mikkelsen’s lead, expressed excitement about the day ahead as they duct-taped their scarves.
“It’s an awesome feeling, and a real privilege,” said Airman 1st Class Alyssa Super, a medical lab technician with the 779th Medical Squadron. “It’s one of those things you never thought you’d be able to do, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for sure.”
Airman 1st Class Kai Hall, a weather maintenance apprentice with the 744th Communications Squadron, said he’s thrilled about the opportunity to march.
“But I’m really here marching for my grandmother,” he said. “Yesterday was her birthday, she’s been though it all – the civil rights movement, Martin Luther King. So this means a whole lot to her.
“And I’m just grateful to be a part of it,” Hall said. “It’s something not that many people ever get a chance to do.”
For Air Force Tech Sgt. Jason Williams, marching in the Inaugural parade is the perfect conclusion to a tour of duty in Washington that ends tomorrow with a move to Robbins Air Force Base, Ga.
“I’ve been here for two and a half years, and I’ve gotten to do the [President Gerald] Ford funeral and this,” said Williams, a vehicle maintainer with the 316th Logistics Readiness Squadron. “It’s one of those unique things you get to do when you’re stationed in Washington. And everybody is pretty excited about it.”
The 316th Wing, under the Air Force District of Washington, has provided myriad support to the Inauguration.
It provided lodging for hundreds of Air National Guardsmen assigned to Federal Emergency Management Agency District 3, provided hot meals to 1,500 military members to make up the honor cordon during the parade route, and stocked each bus headed to the Inauguration with water, coffee, cocoa, hot broth and box lunches.
Later today, Andrews Air Force Base will host the departure ceremony for President George W. Bush.