STARKE, Fla. – More than 300 citizen soldiers from throughout Florida will witness history Monday as part of the military support for the 37th Presidential Inauguration in Washington, D.C.
The Florida Guardsmen will be part of Joint Task Force Access, making sure civilians flow through areas smoothly to get to the inaugural events.
The mission requires a large amount of planning and preparation and involves coordination with not only the other National Guard units that will be providing support, but also coordinating with active duty forces, the U.S. Secret Service and other law enforcement agencies who will be present.
As part of the preparation for this mission, the Florida Guardsmen gathered at Camp Blanding Joint Training Center near Starke, to issue equipment, complete paperwork and ensure all the soldiers have everything they need to be successful. The in-processing also gives the leadership a chance to address any issues that might arise during the trip.
One of those issues is weather. The soldiers may not be acclimatized to the cold weather they will encounter in the nation's capital. Leaders are ensuring that the soldiers have the appropriate gear for the cold weather and potential snow they may encounter.
"From what we're hearing, it's going to snow up there, so that's going to be a big factor," said Capt. Jamire Austin, the Charlie Company commander.
Safety is also a huge consideration for the mission. From making sure soldiers are well-hydrated to ensuring they have enough rest, leaders at all levels are making sure that safety is a part of the planning and execution of the mission.
"We're going to be [taking a bus] up to D.C., so that's a long bus ride," said Capt. Charleton Matthews, Commander of Bravo Company. "We have to make sure that our Soldiers who are driving don't get fatigued. It's very important that we do all of those safety checks and make sure that everybody gets enough rest."
For the soldiers, the mission provides an opportunity to be involved in an historic event in the nation's history, especially for the young soldiers who are new to the military.
"I think it's a good mission that gives some of the soldiers who are just coming in some exposure so they can also take part in history and be a part of the inauguration," said Austin.
The Florida National Guard has some experience in this mission – the state supported the last Presidential Inauguration in 2009. This experience, combined with the overall motivation from the soldiers who all volunteered to support the mission, is evident as the soldiers prepare for the long trip from Florida to Washington, D.C.
"Whenever you get volunteers, everyone's excited about the mission and everyone wants to take part," said Matthews.