Military’s pivotal role in America is celebrated
By: Stephanie Gaskell
January 18, 2013 09:55 PM EST
For Americans, it’s the Inauguration of a president. For the troops, it’s a welcome to their commander in chief.
The military has always played a major role in presidential Inaugurations — and this year is no different, with more than 5,000 service members from each branch represented in the ceremonies, balls and parades that will take place around Washington.
Each member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff will be on the podium at the Capitol, along with several Medal of Honor recipients, as President Barack Obama is sworn in for a second term. Then he and first lady Michelle Obama, along with Vice President Joe Biden and his wife, Jill, will conduct a review of troops gathered on the east side of the Capitol — service members from every branch, many of them just returned from the war in Afghanistan.
Soldiers, Marines, sailors, airmen and Coast Guardsmen from across the country will be represented in the parade. Reserve and Guard forces and members from major veterans organizations will also be on hand.
“One of the remarkable traditions of this nation that we tend to take for granted is that in more than 225 years, the military has always been a pertinent participant in the transition or continuity of civilian authority of supporting the commander in chief as an individual chosen by the American people,” said Michael Wagner, lead inaugural planner for operations for Joint Task Force — National Capital Region, which oversees the military’s involvement in the Inauguration.
“We take that for granted,” Wagner told POLITICO. “It’s certainly not taken for granted in much of the world.”
The committee has a budget of $1.2 million, which is $3,000 less than the last price tag, officials told POLITICO. Many ceremonial costs are included in the Defense Department budget. Other costs, such as security and use of equipment, are reimbursed.
The three-day festivities have many moving parts, and planning began months ago. The troops play both a ceremonial role, with bands and color guards, and a security role in keeping the president and the public safe. There will even be dozens of military dogs working to support law-enforcement officials.
“The Inauguration Day parade is the largest, most complicated event that takes place in the nation’s capital,” said Maj. Gen. Michael Linnington, JTF-NCR commanding general.
Sen. Chuck Schumer, chairman of the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies, said the military’s role in the Inauguration has always been to support the president. But after more than a decade of war, it’s a chance to honor the troops, too.
“The inaugural ceremonies are an opportunity to celebrate our American democracy, and the military and our veterans play a key role,” Schumer told POLITICO. “We invite many veterans and members of the military from across the country to attend as a tribute to the sacrifices to protect our democracy and our freedoms.”
Presidential Inaugurations are always reflective of the times. “Each president put their mark on things,” Wagner said.
The military’s role has varied in times of war and peace since George Washington was sworn in as the country’s first president in 1789.
“President Washington set all the precedent for what we do in the Inaugurations, and he was very aware that he was setting the precedent,” said Andrew Santella, author of “U.S. Presidential Inaugurations.” “But he was also very wary about having the military involved and about having all the pageantry.”
On his trip from Mount Vernon to New York, where the nation’s first Inauguration took place, Washington was met by masses of people and his troops as he traveled north. They wanted to hold parades and cheer him along the way.
“He was really disturbed by that — having just fought a war against a king, he didn’t want there to be all this royalist imagery,” Santella told POLITICO.
When Washington arrived in New York, Santella said, “Once again there was a military unit waiting to escort him [but] he said, ‘I’m glad to have you here, thank you. But the affection of my fellow citizens is the only guard that I want.’”
During Abraham Lincoln’s Inauguration, his procession to the Capitol was surrounded by heavily armed troops as the nation was being pulled into civil war.
Franklin D. Roosevelt’s fourth Inauguration had few troops on hand — they were overseas fighting in World War II. “The focus was not on a large-scale celebration in Washington but getting on with that business,” Wagner said.
Roosevelt was also the first president to include the U.S. Merchant Marine in the parade.
“FDR felt that the contribution of the merchant navy in World War II was so critical to the war effort that he wanted to recognize them and recognize their sacrifice,” Wagner said.
Dwight Eisenhower put on an impressive show during his Inauguration, displaying tanks and vehicles in the streets as the Cold War heated up.
As for Obama, his second Inauguration is to include a tribute to the Alabama-based Tuskegee Airmen, the first African-American military aviators in the U.S. armed forces. There will be a float displaying a replica of the famous “Red Tail” fighter planes they flew during the war and a group of the original members of the unit.
“It’s going to be amazing and a very, very emotional experience for them,” Wagner said.