EVERY four years the United States elects a president, and each time, members of the armed forces have participated in the inaugural events.
Military participation dates back to the inauguration of George Washington. On April 20, 1789, Soldiers, local militias and war veterans escorted the president to his swearing-in--then held in New York City.
Today, the Department of Defense stands up the Armed Forces Inaugural Committee well in advance of each presidential election. The members of the AFIC, a committee of Joint Forces Headquarters-National Capital Region, orchestrate the participation of today's military in inaugural events.
During the 10-day period, Jan. 15-24, the military provides ceremonial support to the presidential inauguration with musical units, marching bands, color guards, salute batteries and honor cordons. The AFIC itself will eventually be made up of more than 700 military personnel. But by inauguration day, as many as 5,000 servicemembers will be ready to participate. Their presence and activities are coordinated by the AFIC.
The AFIC works with two other committees to plan the events that surround the inauguration of the president. The first, the Presidential Inaugural Committee, a non-profit organization that is formed after the general election and represents the president-elect, plans and funds the parade following the swearing-in of the president and the evening's celebratory balls. The Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies plans the actual inauguration event.
The AFIC itself works with both committees, lending support wherever a military presence is needed.
"What we do is provide ceremonial support to those two organizations, where they ask, and within Department of Defense guidelines," said Sgt. Maj. Brian S. Picerno, who serves as the senior enlisted advisor for AFIC members. It is his role to take care of the more than 700 military members, including more than 200 Soldiers, who will eventually be part of AFIC.
Despite the AFIC's proximity and participation in what is a very political process, Picerno is quick to point out that the AFIC itself is a non-political, non-partisan committee--without an opinion about who wins the election.
"We are totally non-political," he said. "We don't even discuss it in here. People may discuss it outside of work, but it's pretty much one of the rules we established when we came here: we are not here to influence or discuss--we're here to support the president-elect once he is selected."
The AFIC stands up well in advance of the inauguration. As early as December 2007, more than a year before the 2009 inauguration, members of the AFIC were already being moved into temporary offices at Fort McNair in Washington, D.C. In June, the group moved to its "permanent" headquarters, the Mary E. Switzer Memorial Building, also in Washington. There, members of the AFIC set up the new headquarters, which will serve the committee until it is disbanded after the inauguration.
"We had to bring troops in here to get us set up," said Picerno. "There's a whole lot of work in getting us from Fort McNair to here--furniture, transportation, the infrastructure itself. There were no telephones, no networks. There were literally hundreds of man hours needed to set all that up."
Sergeant Richard P. Grossman volunteered for the AFIC and reported in December. He is stationed out of Fort McNair and serves as a senior supply sergeant for the Center for Military History there. At AFIC, he serves as the property book non-commissioned officer-in-charge, accounting for all property owned or borrowed by AFIC. He helped convert the AFIC headquarters from a bare-bones facility to a fully functioning military operation.