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Military Planners Prepare for Big Day

Inauguration Day is a little more than a month away. Architect of the Capitol crews are completing the platform for the swearing-in ceremony, multiple law enforcement agencies are coordinating security parameters and someone somewhere is deciding what will be served at lunch.

And at the D.C. Armory, a military task force is rehearsing its route for the traditional inaugural parade on a 60-foot-by-40-foot map of Washington complete with small-scale models of the monuments.

Since the very first inauguration and under the auspices of the Joint Task Force-National Capital Region since the early 1950s, a team of servicemen and -women from all branches of the armed services have participated in the storied march down Pennsylvania Avenue to escort the president from the Capitol to the White House.

The parade is steeped in military tradition, complete with marching bands, color guards, mounted horses and cordons of officers along the sidewalks of the parade route giving salute to their commander in chief.

This year, the task force responsible for providing “ceremonial military support” is 5,000-members strong. Next month, it will bring more than 13,000 personnel to Washington to participate in the parade or assist with general law enforcement activities, such as crowd control or traffic direction, during inaugural festivities.

During a presentation for the media Wednesday, officials described just what goes into planning an event like this. It takes months of coordination, not just with other organizing entities such as the Presidential Inaugural Committee or the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies, but among themselves.

Rehearsals are being performed regularly across the giant map, as officers actually walk through where they will be going on Inauguration Day, carefully navigating the models and other three-dimensional placards indicating a restroom or a drop-off point. On Wednesday morning, a formal run-through was being prepared for an audience of law enforcement officials, among them the House and Senate Sergeants-at-Arms Paul Irving and Terrance Gainer.

These rehearsals are designed in part to ensure that officers know like second nature how they are going to move dozens of moving “personnel” and “assets” from across the city to one central location at the start of the inaugural parade route. In 2009, the task force had to orchestrate the assembly of 45 marching bands, 48 marching units, 17 float units, 14 horse units, 217 horses, four stationary route acts and three roving route acts —all without any chaos or disruption. Everything also has to happen very quickly and in seamless cooperation, a process Brig. Gen. James P. Scanlan, the task force’s deputy for inaugural support, likened to a “ballet.”

While lots of positions in the task force are at the forefront of organizing the event, there are others, just as crucial, operating behind the scenes.

George Mickens, who joined the National Guard in 1996 and has been involved with in inaugural planning starting with President Bill Clinton’s second inauguration in 1997, is in charge of providing logistic support and gathering all the necessary supplies participants will need on the ground, from water to lodging.

“Without transportation, we can’t get to the mission. Without food, we can’t sustain. Without clothes, we can’t go,” he explained.

In this case, the mission is the parade.

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