WASHINGTON – Specialist Ivan Sights conceded he was a little sleep-deprived in the days leading up to the 59th presidential inauguration Wednesday.
"We had to be at the Capitol at 2 this morning," said Sights, an infantryman with the Georgia Army National Guard's 3rd Battalion, 121st Infantry Regiment. "But it's worth it. The whole reason we are here is for the greater good and to give everybody a sense of security."
The past couple of years, Sights has deployed to Afghanistan, trained in Germany, sanitized nursing facilities as part of the COVID-19 response, and now put his civilian job and studies on hold for duty in the nation's capital.
He joined more than 26,000 National Guard members from all 50 states, three territories and the District of Columbia to provide security, logistics and communications and manage traffic in support of D.C. and federal officials for the inauguration.
The Guard has supported presidential inaugurations since 1789 when local militia units took part in George Washington's inaugural events in New York City. But this year's inaugural assistance was the most extensive ever.
Army Sgt. Maj. Michael Brooks, the senior enlisted leader for the District of Columbia National Guard, observed that while deployed Guard members have missions unique to their states or territories, protecting the capital and preserving the Constitution binds them.
"The D.C. Guard was created to protect the nation's capital," said Brooks. "We hope that Guard members supporting from around the country and territories take pride in knowing that for a brief moment in history they, too, can call themselves 'Capital Guardians.'"
Meeting the security and safety requirements for the massive mission meant adequate preparation – especially for the possibility of civil disturbance.
Army Sgt. Courtney Lee, a military policeman with the Illinois Army National Guard's 933rd Military Police Company, said creating a positive environment for Guard members is key.
"For Guardsmen to operate, sometimes it's not just telling them to do something for face value," said Lee, who leans on his civilian experience as a police officer for the Chicago Police Department when on military duty. "You have to give them an explanation on 'why we do this or why we do that,' so they are able to perform better."
The result, he added, is fulfilling the support local officials need and going home at the end of the day.
"When we prep for the worst but don't have to utilize our training, that's a successful mission for me," Lee said.
Though Soldiers in his unit put in long hours leading up to the inauguration, they remained excited.
"A lot of them are younger, so they are really grateful to get this kind of experience," Lee said. "That alone is keeping them in high spirits."
Taking care of the Guard members helps ensure they remain positive.
"We're keeping on top of everything, especially with the cold weather and tracking COVID-19, making sure that if anyone is showing any symptoms that we are nipping that in the bud," said Army Sgt. Stephanie Kultzow, a medic with the South Carolina Army National Guard's 4th Battalion, 118th Infantry Combined Arms Battalion.
Through the challenges associated with supporting the inauguration, Guard members also reflected on the historical significance of the event.
For Army Staff Sgt. Michael Martin, a unit supply specialist with the Virginia Army National Guard's 2nd Battalion, 183rd Cavalry Regiment, a painting of the signing of the Declaration of Independence inside the Capitol Rotunda lent perspective to the mission.
Many of the Founding Fathers, he noted, were members of militia units, the predecessors of the modern-day Guard.
"To know that they stood up for the Declaration of Independence, and here we are – the 'Virginia militia' – protecting the nation's capital, is absolutely mind-blowing," Martin said.
Soldiers with the Massachusetts Army National Guard's 1st Battalion, 181st Infantry Regiment – the successor of one of the nation's first three militia regiments established in 1636 – had similar thoughts.
"Being here is definitely special because our unit has a lot of history," said Spc. Jacob Lauria, an infantryman. "It's an honor to be called in here to serve with the largest collection of National Guardsmen in recent times."
Army Staff Sgt. Michael Bourque, also a 1st Battalion, 181st infantryman, echoed those sentiments.
"The gravity of being here is something that is not lost on any individual," he observed. "The fact that we are here to support the Capitol Police and affiliated agencies in the peaceful transfer of power is a pretty heavy undertaking. I think everyone feels that responsibility, and we are proud to be here."
Bourque added he is mindful of the lasting impact left by his unit's militia predecessors.
"They blazed the path," he said, "giving us the opportunity to wear the uniform, giving us the opportunity to promote and (help) continue democracy."