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Members of the U.S. military practice their Inauguration Day assignments on Constitution Avenue in front of the U.S. Capitol. The inauguration of President-elect Barack Obama is scheduled to take place on Jan. 20.
Members of the U.S. military practice their Inauguration Day assignments on Constitution Avenue in front of the U.S. Capitol. The inauguration of President-elect Barack Obama is scheduled to take place on Jan. 20. Win McNamee/Getty Images
Next Tuesday's inauguration promises to draw massive crowds, not to mention President Bush, President-elect Obama and nearly every member of Congress and the Cabinet. It is a historic occasion, but unfortunately it is also a tempting target.
The military will be on high alert for the inauguration. Northern Command, which guards U.S. air space, is increasing the number of air patrols over the capital, and specialist chemical-attack and medical teams will be brought in. Although military leaders say they haven't been told of any specific threats, they're planning just in case.
The Secret Service is in charge of security for the event. They'll be backed up by police, the FBI — and about 12,000 members of the military.
On a cold recent morning at Fort Belvoir, about 18 miles south of Washington, Black Hawk Army helicopters lifted off for a training run. The Black Hawks will be on standby for the inauguration. They'll have plenty of company in the skies, because the number of air patrols that day will be doubled.
Gen. Gene Renuart, the officer in charge of Northern Command, says that F-16s, F-15s and F-22s may all see duty that day.
As the military group ultimately responsible for defending the United States, Northern Command will field emergency medical teams, bomb disposal teams and a force designed to respond to a large-scale chemical, biological or radiological event.
On the Potomac River, LCACs — short for "Landing Craft, Air Cushioned" — will be on alert. The craft are a sort of military hovercraft that could evacuate people in a hurry. Renuart says the equipment and personnel are being put into place "just in case" something happens.
"The good news is that these are all prudent measures that we take in the world we live in since 9/11," Renuart said. "We don't believe that there is an imminent threat. But any time you have a couple million people compressed into an area like we'll see, you want to be prepared for any kind of an event."
In addition to providing security, the military also plays a big ceremonial role in the inauguration.
The Military District of Washington, based at Fort McNair, is in charge of the military's more ceremonial participation in the big day.
Maj. Gen. Richard Rowe, the group's commander, is also chairman of the Armed Forces Inaugural Committee.
"We will present the colors," Rowe said. "You will have the premier service band provide the national anthem and the musical support on the west steps of the Capitol.
"We will form a presidential honor guard, to escort the president up Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the inaugural parade. And then we will have elements within the inaugural parade."
Rowe will be walking at the front of that honor guard. He says he's looking forward to a great day, with blue skies and big crowds.
"I'm hoping that the parade route is filled," Rowe said. "We know, based upon the demand, that the capital is going to be filled.
"Every place you can stand, every place you can sit. And then I think that the vision — which is a mall that is filled to historic proportions — I think we're gonna see that picture. And so, I'm pleased."
If everything goes according to plan, and the parade and all the speeches come off without a hitch, there will still be one task left.
Members of the military will also be on duty Tuesday night at Washington's large Convention Center, which will host several inaugural balls. Just in case they're needed.