Thirteen Wyoming Air National Guard airmen were part of a roughly 7,500-strong force of citizen-soldiers and airmen from 43 states, three territories and the District of Columbia brought to Washington, D.C., last week to support local civilian authorities as well as federal government agency partners for the inauguration of President Donald J. Trump.
While the contingent from the airlift wing’s 153rd Security Forces Squadron was one of, if not the smallest, of the groups from any state, they fit in well with the overall mission according to Master Sgt. William Clark, the non-commissioned officer in charge of the Wyoming unit.
“I’m sure the DC police, and Secret Service and capital police and all those agencies know how to do this every four years, but for such a large operation and for so many agencies to come together and plug us into it and make us a part of it all is quite a feat,” Clark said.
He said his unit was initially assigned to be a small response force, and while the mission went through some changes over the course of the two days prior to the 58th inauguration, it was determined that they would man several traffic control points with the 200 members from the Puerto Rico Army National Guard.
“They plugged us in with them and it went really well,” Clark said. “We got along great.”
The day before the inauguration, the airmen were housed at FedEx Field, home of the Washington Redskins, in Landover, Maryland, along with about 3,500 other airmen and soldiers. While most of the time was spent on cots lining the entire club section of the stadium resting up for the next day’s long shifts they also received training taught by local law enforcement officials.
The training led up to a swearing-in ceremony for all the troops, who were deputized as “District of Columbia Special Police.”
“This was a great opportunity for us,” said Staff Sgt. William Dettman. “How many people can say they attended a presidential inauguration, much less provided security.”
Following the ceremony, Tech. Sgt. Adam Coulon, who like all of his Wyoming wingmen, was here for his first inaugural duty, said he wasn’t nervous at all.
“I’m really relaxed,” he said. “Security is what we do every day. We’re well trained for whatever we might do.”
A big difference for the Wyoming troops and all the other National Guard security forces and military police, who are accustomed to being armed while on duty, was the lack of weapons and other protective equipment.
“Every day we wear that heavy gear and it reminds of us the threat, so to not have any of that was a little unsettling,” Clark said.
As mentioned earlier, the guardsmen were strictly in a support role and any use of deadly force, or other elevated force posture, was left in the hands of local authorities.
“It was a lot different not being armed, but the DC police definitely had a good handle on the situation,” Senior Airman Patrick McNeil said. “It wasn’t bad. The crowds we saw weren’t really protest crowds. They were just carrying signs. We mostly answered questions, like ‘How do we get to the parade?’.”
Clark, who worked the event from 2:30 a.m. until 8 p.m. Friday, checking on his troops at the various posts, said he saw a few groups that “were doing a lot of yelling and saying mean things, but no vandalism.
“For the most part it was all very positive,” he continued. “A lot of people came up to us and thanked us for our service. They seemed motivated and excited by what we were doing there.”
Neither Clark nor McNeil could see the ceremony on the Capitol steps, but felt proud and grateful to be a part of the peaceful transfer of power process.
“We heard the oath start, and we kind of stopped what we were doing for a moment and listened,” Clark said. “I felt proud. With all the millions of people who live in this country, and who may never attend such an event, I felt fortunate to have the opportunity.”
While this opportunity gave these members a unique experience, it also provided an opportunity to implement their training.
“It was exciting to provide support,” said Airman 1st Class Mason Bicandi, 153rd SF squadron. “This event was real life experience and I was able to see the concept of an integrated force as well as the democratic process.”
The National Guard is responsible for the security and safety of America through homeland security, disaster response, emergency management and supporting the Global War on Terrorism at home or abroad.
Military involvement in the presidential inauguration dates back to April 30, 1789, when members of the U.S. Army, local militias – the modern-day National Guard – and revolutionary war veterans formed an honor detail to escort Gen. George Washington to the then-seat of government, New York City for his inauguration ceremony.
In 1801 a militia company in Charlottesville, Virgina, escorted Thomas Jefferson to Washington, D.C., before his inauguration ceremony. The D.C. National Guard has participated in every inauguration since the 1861 inauguration of President Abraham Lincoln.