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Jan 21, 2013: Presidential Inaugural Support Remains Vital Military Mission

Washington, DC – The US military takes great pride in the centuries-old tradition of supporting the presidential inauguration and recognizing the president as commander in chief, the deputy for inaugural support said here on Nov 7, 2012.

Air Force Brig. Gen. Jim Scanlan, with Joint Task Force National Capital Region, discussed the history of inaugural support with The Pentagon Channel and American Forces Press Service, and offered a behind-the-scenes glimpse of the planning involved for the 57th presidential inauguration, slated for Jan. 21, 2013.

Military involvement in ceremonies welcoming a president “dates back to the very first inauguration, when the militia and Revolutionary War veterans escorted then-President [George] Washington to New York for his inauguration,” Scanlan said.

“President [John F.] Kennedy’s inauguration, in 1961, is what’s known to be the largest where there were actually 30,000 participants — 15,000 of those being military,” he said.

In contrast, the general said, the 57th presidential inauguration will have about 5,000 service members involved and a total of 12,000 participants.

Scanlan called the inauguration a “showcase” event that demonstrates “what a great nation we have” to the world and recognizes the president, as elected by the people.

“It’s truly an honor for a service member to have the opportunity [to participate in the inauguration],” he said. “This is the first time that I’ll ever have the opportunity in a 27-year career to support the inauguration.”

“And … to have that opportunity to participate in an event, that really, we look at as something the entire world watches,” Scanlan added.

Scanlan explained why inaugural support remains “absolutely vital” and is still a relevant military mission today.

“It provides us an opportunity to recognize the president as the commander-in-chief,” he said, “and it provides us an opportunity, as the 5,000 or so members that participate, to represent the more than two million total force members that are serving worldwide.”

Scanlan described how support for the ceremony usually works, noting the support alone is a week-long process, and “it’s really not just one inauguration proceeding.”

“The inauguration itself is a very long day,” he said. It normally starts with a church service, he said, then proceeds through the procession down to the Capitol, followed by the swearing-in ceremony, a luncheon, a parade and finally an inaugural ball during the evening.

Scanlan also noted there are minor differences for an inauguration when a president has been re-elected.

“The big one being that there won’t be a departure of the outgoing president,” he said. “It’s one of the things that we plan for. If there is a new president, we have to arrange for the departure of the outgoing president.” “But that’s not a factor [now],” Scanlan said. “Everything else is pretty much the same for the most part.”

The general discussed the primary duties of service members who are part of the inaugural support.

“We provide ceremonial support to all the events — that could be in the form of a color guard, or a musical ensemble,” he said. “And then actually the day of the inauguration, ceremonial support in the form a street cordon, and of course, the parade itself.”

Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta, Scanlan said, has guidelines on what ceremonial support the joint task force provides.

“The secretary of defense designated the commander of US [Northern Command] as the commander responsible for providing all the military support to the inauguration,” he said. “And then Joint Task Force National Capital Region is actually coordinating all of that.”

In these austere times, Scanlan said, the task force has gotten “more efficient and more effective over the years” in planning and providing support. Other challenges include the “sheer magnitude of the event,” potential weather changes and the crowd turnout, he added.

Due to these and other unforeseen circumstances, Scanlan said, planning began about a year ago, with the first “augmentees” arriving in April, and some set to arrive “as late as January 7.”

So the military continues to carry on a long tradition of supporting and recognizing the commander-in-chief as the world looks on.

“It’s an honor to be here,” Scanlan said. “For all the service members, it’s just a great opportunity for us to recognize the president as the commander-in-chief.”

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