WASHINGTON — Less than a year ago, Army Sgt. John Garidan was in Afghanistan on a mission with the Hawaii National Guard.
The harsh conditions, and specifically the snow and the ice, helped prepare him for his latest assignment in Washington, D.C., but not the circumstances that brought him here.
Garidan and his fellow guardsmen, many of them armed with M-4 assault rifles, were in the district Wednesday to provide security for the nation’s capital as Joe Biden was sworn in as the 46th president of the United States.
They stood watch over the bridges that had been locked down to control the flow of traffic and were prepared to respond to any violence that might occur in the wake of Donald Trump’s departure from office.
They also worried what it might be like should they also have to face off with their fellow Americans.
“This mission alone is different from any other one that we’ve done,” Garidan said. “Not many people can say that they’ve come here while not on vacation and helped out. I’ve done my part as a patriot.”
In general, the day was quiet, no doubt due to the heavy military presence.
More than 25,000 troops were deployed to Washington after a mob of Trump supporters, including far-right extremist Proud Boys, QAnon conspiracy adherents and white supremacists stormed the U.S. Capitol building on Jan. 6 in an attempt to stop lawmakers from certifying the results of the 2020 presidential election that Biden won.
Five people died, including a Capitol Police officer, and Trump was later impeached in the House of Representatives for “incitement of insurrection.”
He will soon face trial in the U.S. Senate, which is now controlled by Democrats who hold a thin majority with Vice President Kamala Harris serving as tiebreaker.
Lt. Col. David Hatcher said he reminded his troops of their oaths of office before Biden’s inauguration, telling them that they don’t swear loyalty to any one party or president.
He also talked to them about the possibility of protesters, and reminded them that the U.S. “sets the example for the world.”
“This is a very different type of deployment,” Hatcher said. “It’s surreal thinking that this would be necessary for the National Guard to come out here just to ensure the peaceful transition of power.”
There was no escaping the memory of the violence that erupted just two weeks ago.
Downtown Washington, particularly around the Capitol and White House, was heavily fortified. Dump trucks barricaded roadways while fencing corralled media and spectators who hoped to catch a glimpse of the festivities and bear witness to history.
Airport security and Secret Service manned security checkpoints in which bags were searched and pockets emptied. Soldiers dressed in combat fatigues patrolled the streets and stood at intervals along the metal barricades to keep an eye for possible trouble.
It never came. Instead, there were celebrity sightings, including Jennifer Lopez and Garth Brooks, both of whom performed at Wednesday’s inauguration.
Hawaii Congressman Ed Case sat on the Capitol lawn alongside U.S. Rep. Kai Kahele as Biden was sworn in. After the ceremony, he tweeted about the nation’s resolve.
“The Union stands,” Case said.
In an interview with Civil Beat, Case said Biden’s address to the nation about unity and the need for honesty was “exactly right for our times.”
America is in the throes of a deadly pandemic that has claimed more than 400,000 lives, he said, and polarization exacerbated by dangerous political rhetoric has threatened the very core of U.S. democracy.
“An inauguration is not just an event, it is really a renewal of our vows to our country and to each other,” Case said.
Any anxiousness he felt about the potential for more violence was set aside, he said. The security forces, including the deployment of the Hawaii National Guard, also provided some comfort.
“It was a necessary assignment and I am proud of them for answering that call and doing what they were asked to do,” Case said. “I’m sure it was uncomfortable, but it had to be done.”
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