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National Guard Supports Historic Inaugural Mission

By Army Staff Sgt. Jim Greenhill
Special to American Forces Press Service

ARLINGTON, Va., Jan. 20, 2009 – About 9,300 National Guard soldiers and airmen joined thousands of active-duty and reserve military members from all services today to support President Barack Obama’s inauguration.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
Sgt. 1st Class Anthony Gardner, Sgt. 1st Class Robert Hull, Spc. Angela Hunter and Staff Sgt. Jose Martinez, all with the District of Columbia Army National Guard, stand by in the Pentagon parking lot before marching in the inaugural parade, Jan. 20, 2009. U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Jim Greenhill
  

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

“We’ve always depended on the National Guard,” Al Roker, the weather anchor for NBC’s Today show, said from the parade staging area outside the Pentagon here.

After the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, “Suddenly, the National Guard took on a whole new meaning,” Roker said. “So, it’s only fitting that at one of the most secure inaugurals, the National Guard would be involved.

“When it comes down to our security, both domestically and internationally, the National Guard is obviously an integral part of that,” he said.

Today’s inauguration marked the Guard’s largest contribution to a presidential inauguration since Minutemen gathered for the First Muster in Massachusetts more than 372 years ago.

“This is a historic first,” Air Force Gen. Craig McKinley, the chief of the National Guard Bureau, said. “The National Guard is contributing not only to the federal response overseas, but we’re also working very closely with our states and our governors. The inauguration is another example of how all our states, territories and the District of Columbia are performing their jobs.”

While National Guard members from a dozen different states and D.C. provided communication, transport, traffic control and medical and logistical support to civilian authorities staging the inauguration, others marched in the inaugural parade.

“This is a historic moment, and I wanted to be a part of history,” said parade participant Army Sgt. 1st Class Anthony Gardner, of the District of Columbia National Guard’s recruiting and retention command. “The National Guard is the oldest military organization in the country. It’s fitting that the National Guard is represented.”

The day began as early as 2 a.m. for participating military members, and their duties were scheduled to run into the evening. But troops said they would not trade the opportunity, and many said they were proud to be a part of the inauguration on both a personal and professional level.

Air Force Senior Airman Jodi Leininger traveled here at the start of the year for a two-month mission to document the military’s contribution to the inauguration for historical purposes.

As a result, this self-proclaimed “small-town girl,” who serves with the 180th Fighter Wing, Ohio Air National Guard, was able to photograph the president-elect during the run-up to the inauguration.

“That was, to me … the biggest opportunity of my life,” Leininger said. “Having the opportunity to take a picture of our first African-American president -- my new commander in chief -- was exciting.”

It was 20 degrees and windy outside the Pentagon when parade participants gathered today before dawn. Army Spc. Angela Harper, of the District of Columbia National Guard’s 276th Military Police Company, called it “bone chilling.”

Despite the cold, “This is a wonderful moment in time, and I’m privileged to have this opportunity,” Harper said. “I would do it again, and again, and again.”

Army Lt. Col. Xavier Brunson, from the 82nd Airborne Division’s 1st Battalion, 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment, brought about 100 soldiers from Fort Bragg, N.C., to represent the Army in the parade.

“The opportunity we have to participate in this transfer of government is exciting to myself and my paratroopers,” Brunson said.

Leininger said the National Guard made a huge contribution before and during the inauguration, but what struck her most was how military members from the active and reserve components pulled together as a team. “It was just one big group,” she said.

Navy Cmdr. Craig Kujawa led part of that group as the Armed Forces Inaugural Committee’s parade division chief.

He called the assembly of more than 200 horses and 300 busloads of marchers a logistical miracle. “Every service is represented,” he said. “It’s a wonderful experience.”

Both the Army and the Air National Guard were represented in the parade, Kujawa said, and both contributed to the preparation and execution of the event.

Army Reserve Sgt. 1st Class Mark Stallworth said he will never forget marching in the inaugural parade.

“I can tell my son, my grandchildren, great-grands,” Stallworth said. “This is something that you can always say that you were a part of, pass it down the line. Call home to your mother and father, ‘Hey, mom, look at me!’ ”

(Army Staff Sgt. Jim Greenhill serves in the National Guard Bureau.)

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