WASHINGTON -- From providing musical performances to acting as key personnel during the swearing-in process, hundreds of service members were on hand on Jan. 11 around the nation's Capitol to support the 56th Presidential Inaugural rehearsal.
Each branch of service played a key role in working out potential issues before the inauguration, said Howard Gantman, staff director of the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies.
The rehearsal started promptly at 5:30 a.m., with a rough walk-through, followed by the placement of military bands and joint-service cordon personnel.
Army Staff Sgt. Derrick Brooks, who serves with 741st Military Intelligence at Fort George G. Meade, Md., took a position of honor as he stood in for President-elect Barrack Obama. Brooks' speech consisted of nothing more than, "My fellow Americans. God bless America," but event coordinators said his role was critical.
Other service members stood in for Vice President-elect Joe Biden and the Obama and Biden families. Navy Seaman LaSean McCray played the role of Michelle Obama. Army Spc. Nicholas Rupple stood in for Biden and Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Karen Lowden acted as Jill Biden.
Two military children stood in as the Obama girls. Dominique Sewell, the 14-year-old daughter of Army Sgt. 1st Class Natalie Sewell-Johnson, stood in as Malia. Ten-year-old Gianna Justice Samora-Nixon, daughter of Navy Chief Petty Officer Kenneth Nixon, was Sasha.
All were selected based on height, weight, gender and ethnicity similarities, explained Air Force Maj. Andra Higgs, an action officer with the Armed Forces Inaugural Committee.
The military's involvement in the presidential inauguration is a centuries-old tradition, which honors the commander in chief, recognizes civilian control of the military and celebrates democracy, Higgs said.
More than 5,000 servicemembers will participate in the Jan. 20 event and provide ceremonial assistance.
"It's an honor for them to be center stage," Higgs said. "We're very glad to have been provided with such world-class support."
Today's rehearsal gave members of the Armed Forces Inaugural Committee a sense of what they can expect next week, when 240,000 ticketed guests and potentially millions of spectators gather in Washington to see Obama becomes the 44th U.S. president.
"It's an honor and a privilege to take part in this [rehearsal]," said Navy Lt. Marcus Jones, who stood in as an Obama family member. "Beside the birth of my children and my marriage, this will be one of the most memorable days of my life."