WASHINGTON - About 100 members of the D.C. National Guard assisted local and federal agencies with security and traffic control at the dedication of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial on the National Mall Oct. 16.
"It is both humbling and thrilling to have been part of such a momentous historical event," said Army Maj. Gen. Errol R. Schwartz, commanding general of the D.C. National Guard. "It is fitting that our Soldiers and Airmen were able to represent the Armed Services in memory of a man who helped change a nation and the world."
Working with the D.C. Department of Transportation, D.C. Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency, and the Secret Service, the Guard members directed pedestrian traffic and manned vehicle checkpoints in the areas around the dedication to ensure a safe ceremony that was attended by tens of thousands of people and featured a speech by President Barrack Obama.
"Today is a great opportunity to show that the D.C. National Guard is capable of answering any call that is bestowed upon us," said Army Spc. Don Anderson, a logistics supply specialist with the 104th Maintenance Company. He waved pedestrians to cross a side street next to the World War II Memorial as he spoke. "To get picked to be here is definitely an honor. It could have been a regular drill, but for us to be here is a privilege."
Guard members at six strategically placed stations gave directions to the ceremony and coordinated traffic on streets used by law enforcement vehicles and bicycles taxis.
The D.C. Guard's 33rd Weapons of Mass Destruction Civil Support Team was also on duty for the event. The specialized team is trained to detect chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and high-yield explosives that might be used in a terrorist attack.
"We are just trying to make sure that everyone gets to the ceremony safely," said Army 1st Lt. Connor Norris, the officer in charge of crowd control. "It's good for the Guard to be a part of something so historic."
As each vehicle approached a major VIP checkpoint on Independence Avenue near the monument, two Guard members stopped cars, checked for proper authorization to pass, and either opened the gate or ordered the driver to turn around if they weren't authorized to go forward.
Army Spc. Calvin Wyche, a truck driver with the 547th Transportation Company, said that within a span of 30 minutes, he approved the credentials for vehicles carrying Oprah Winfrey, and the Reverends Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton.
"I am just glad to have this opportunity to represent myself in the best way that I can," Wyche said of the special duty.
An expansive three-hour ceremony opened the memorial with speeches by President Obama and civil rights leaders like Representative John Lewis and Rev. Jackson, and songs by performers like Aretha Franklin and Stevie Wonder.
"I know there are better days ahead," Obama said, his voice rising. "I know this because of the man towering above me."
The DCNG was scheduled to perform the same duties at the ceremony that was originally scheduled for Aug. 28, but the event was postponed because of Hurricane Irene.