By Staff Sgt. C. Todd Lopez
WASHINGTON (Jan. 21, 2005) -- Thousands of people lined Pennsylvania Avenue on Jan. 20, waiting for the passing of the presidential motorcade during the inaugural parade.
Two things were immediately apparent to people attending the event. The first was the overwhelming amount of security, and second was the large contingent of servicemembers.
Security at any public event featuring the president is always high. Secret Service agents paced back and forth at their posts, hundreds of civilian law enforcement officers from around the country stood shoulder-to-shoulder on the street, and countersnipers, dressed in black, dotted rooftops of the white marble federal buildings that surrounded the parade route.
Nearly 900 Airmen wearing service dress stood at attention on both sides of the parade route near the Canadian Embassy to render honors to the president as he rode by.
This year, President George W. Bush asked the military to play a more prominent role in the inauguration. But, Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force Gerald R. Murray said, the military has always been involved in the inaugural events.
"The military has been part of presidential inauguration from the very first one with President George Washington," he said. "The military actually escorted General Washington to be installed as the new president. Along the way, the military gave him great honors, which in many ways set the foundation for much of what we do today."
After a short delay in the start of the parade, President Bush’s motorcade, an armada of jet-black limousines and sport utility vehicles, passed in front of where the first few Airmen were already standing at attention. From presidential supporters in the crowd came cheers. From Airmen standing on the street, some less than 50 feet from the president, came sharp salutes –- a courtesy they have paid countless times before, but perhaps never to someone of such importance.
As the president continued down Pennsylvania Avenue, servicemembers from other branches of the armed forces repeated the gesture, Chief Murray said.
"Today we have a very ceremonial role in this, as do the other branches of the service," he said. "Each branch of the service will have Sailors, Marines, Soldiers and Coast Guardsmen here. They will be in place to render their honors to the president as he goes from the Capitol to the White House as part of this parade route."
Chief Murray was on hand at the event as a parade commentator, to let those in the immediate area know what was happening with the parade and who was passing by in the motorcade.
"My role here is to be one of the emcees for this area -- the Air Force cordon," Chief Murray said. "Ed Clements, a radio broadcaster from Texas and a friend of the president, and our very own Senior Airman Anthony Plyler, a broadcaster with the Armed Forces Network, are the primary narrators. I'll just be adding a bit of my military perspective."
The 2005 inauguration would be the first for the many Airmen who joined the Air Force after Sept. 11, 2001. Chief Murray said for those Airmen, and for others, participating in the event was a chance to render honors to the president and to be part of history.
"This is only the 55th presidential inauguration," Chief Murray said. "Our Airmen are taking a part in history today. To be a part of the inauguration, the swearing in and the parade -- there could not be anything greater for our Airmen."
The 2004 election was one of the most watched in American history. The debates were fierce, the campaigning was nonstop, and the voting margins were predicted to be slim. Everybody took a side. But, Chief Murray said, the Air Force's role in the inauguration is not political at all.
"We are here to support our commander in chief," he said. "That commander in chief is the person that is elected by the people of the United States of America. Politics has nothing to do with this whatsoever."
The inaugural parade lasted for two hours, and it included marching bands and honor guard units from every military service, and representatives from Air Force District of Washington and the Air Force Academy.