WASHINGTON - Before dawn Sunday, U.S. military personnel met at Joint-Base Andrews to then travel to the Pentagon and from there deploy to the Capitol in buses on a sunny day in Washington, DC.
Metro and Capitol police had shut down streets along what will be the inaugural parade route through downtown Washington and around the Capitol, so that a limited number of military representatives and marching bands could parade through the city as they will on inauguration day this Friday.
Members of the military stood in for President-elect Donald Trump, his vice president-elect Mike Pence, and members of their families to, as closely as possible, imitate the historic event – and prepare as much as possible for the real thing.
Between 800,000 and 900,000 people are expected to travel to DC for the inauguration – an estimate far smaller than President Barack Obama’s first inauguration in 2009. But a significant portion of expected attendees this year are protesters, which may change the dynamic of inauguration festivities.
Although DC residents have only begun seeing barricades and construction in recent weeks, inauguration planning started before the election was even decided.
“Since April, my administration has been working closely with local federal, regional and private sector partners to ensure the seamless oversight and integrated management of this national event,” DC Mayor Muriel Bowser told a news conference earlier in January.
On the local level, DC, Capitol, and Park police are working with public transportation authorities, the National Parks Service, and DC’s Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency (HSEMA).
“The city has a very large role in this – these are our streets, this is our town,” Chris Geldart, DC’s HSEMA director, told VOA.
The U.S. Secret Service is primarily responsible for the security of the president.
“The Secret Service, in conjunction with our law enforcement, military and public safety partners, have been working on preparing for the inauguration since June of last year,” Secret Service Washington Field Office Special Agent in Charge Brian Ebert told VOA.
Joint task force
The Joint Task Force Committee, National Capitol Region (JTF-NCR) Inaugural Committee includes members of the military and some DC National Guard members. Thousands of National Guard members will be deputized by the D.C. Police Department, giving them the power to make arrests. Although the deputization has been common practice in previous inaugurals, arrests are rarely made.
Thousands of members of the military were selected from across the U.S. to join the Task Force.
“I specifically came from Texas,” U.S. Army Major Beatrice Florez, the logistics officer for the 2017 inauguration, told VOA. “On my team I have people…from Hawaii. Some are local but some are really drawn from all over the U.S. and even some from overseas just to make up this task force.”
All were selected specifically for this task, and all have been involved in trainings and exercises as early as a month in advance.
“We’ve been planning and coordinating, and we’ve conducted a number of joint training initiatives as well as tabletop and field exercises, rehearsal of concept (ROC) drills, and dress rehearsals to ensure that we’re all on the same page, and that we are ready and prepared for the inauguration and ready to respond immediately and in a well-coordinated fashion to effectively deal with any challenges that we face,” Ebert said.
"Clearly, the biggest concern at this point is the number of potential protesters," said Major General Bradley Becker, commanding general of the Joint Force Headquarters-National Capital Region.
The ANSWER (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism) coalition is one of many groups seeking permits to protest on Inauguration Day. Nearly 20,000 people have RSVP'd on the group's website.
According to a Facebook event page, hundreds of thousands of people plan to participate in the Women's March on Washington the day after the inauguration.
The National Park Service is in charge of clearing permits for protests, because most of them occur on the National Mall and around monuments. It is also in charge of putting up barricades along the parade route, around the National Mall, and near the Capitol.
Agents across the many groups working to ensure the inauguration runs smoothly are confident that they are prepared for this challenge.
“Folks come to DC to express their first amendment rights and we honor that here,” Geldart said, preferring to refer to protests and demonstrations as “First Amendment activities.”
“So from the beginning we ensure we have the appropriate amount of folks to make sure that as we have opposing groups with different First Amendment rights. We make sure that everybody can come here, say what they need to say, have the experience they want to have in Washington, DC, do so peacefully, lawfully, and everybody goes home at the end of the day safely.”