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Kentucky Guard supports 59th presidential inauguration

by Sgt. Alan Royalty

133rd Mobile Public Affairs Detachment

More than 315 Kentucky National Guard Soldiers and Airmen assisted federal agencies in securing the National Capital Region during the 59th Presidential Inauguration in Washington, D.C., Jan. 16-24, 2021. At least 25,000 National Guardsmen from around the country were activated to support the inauguration as security heightened following the U.S. Capitol Building breach on Jan. 6.

Kentucky Guardsmen augmented U.S. Capitol Police, supported the Department of Energy to screen for potential hazardous substances, conducted Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and Nuclear (CBRN) mass casualty decontamination operations, and emergency medical trauma care. Personnel supporting the inauguration included Soldiers and Airmen from the 1-149th Infantry, 138th Field Artillery Brigade, 41st Civil Support Team (CST), CBRN Enhanced Response Force-Package (CERF-P), 123rd Medical Detachment, Air Guard Food Service Support, and Chaplain Corps.

Despite the overwhelming number of Guardsmen present this year, the National Guard’s involvement in presidential inaugurations is as old as the country itself.

“The forefathers of today’s National Guard were present for the inauguration of George Washington,” said Army Gen. Daniel Hokanson, Chief of the National Guard Bureau, “and we have been part of every inauguration since.”

Kentucky Soldiers with the 1-149th Task Force Mountain Warrior, a composite of Soldiers from 1-149th Infantry and the 138th Field Artillery Brigade were sworn in as Capitol Police and augmented security within U.S. Capitol Building grounds. The task force worked 12-hour shifts from the afternoon into the early morning hours.

Task Force Mountain Warrior and 1-149th Infantry Commander Army Lt. Col. Jason Penn oversaw the Kentucky Army National Guard’s augment of Capital forces and spent a majority of his time on Capitol Building grounds along with his Soldiers.

“We came together as a collection of individual Soldiers to form a cohesive unit to successfully accomplish a unified mission—to secure the Capitol grounds,” Penn said. “I’m extremely proud and humbled to have the opportunity to lead and serve such a fine group of Soldiers. It’s the highlight of my career.”

U.S. Capital authorities called upon Soldiers and Airmen with the Kentucky CERF-P to conduct a specific and unique mission: to decontaminate victims in the event of a mass chemical attack leading up to and during the inauguration. Service members established decontamination and medical lanes at the Naval Observatory, partially removed from the heightened security in the National Capital Region.

This is the first CERF-P set up in support of the Vice President.

“Members of the CERF-P sacrificed time away from their families in the middle of a pandemic and unprecedented uncertainty to showcase their abilities and readiness,” said Army Lt. Col. Gary Barr, 103rd Chemical Battalion Commander. “Their actions reflect the professionalism of the Kentucky National Guard.”

The CERF-P is a specially designated response force consisting of medical and CBRN personnel trained to save lives and improve patient outcomes during a chemical attack. Soldiers are specially trained on decontamination equipment and Airmen run the trauma bays, with both conducting intensive training throughout the year to prepare for events just like the inauguration.

Kentucky’s Air and Army National Guard has built strong cross-disciplinary relationships between services and large missions often see the two operating in tandem. Coordination between branches can introduce special challenges that service members at all levels must overcome, but the National Guard is a more lethal force because of it.

“The Kentucky CERF-P has been a unified mission from the very start,” said Air Master Sgt. Nikki Wilson, 123rd Medical Detachment medical admin non-commissioned officer in charge and CERF-P liaison. “Each branch brings different assets and experience to the table, and our years of experience together has built really strong bonds between us. I truly love my Army counterparts.”

Service members with the CST, another unit combining Air and Army Guardsmen, provided plainclothes assistance to the Department of Energy to screen inauguration event locations for hazardous or radioactive substances. Equipped with specialized backpacks, the CST provided the crucial service in helping make sure everyone who came to the National Capital Region could do so safely and without fear.

“This is a continuation of Kentucky’s tradition of service to the state and our Nation as a whole,” said Army 1st Lt. Patrick McCoy, the CST Officer-in-Charge for inauguration support. “Regardless of the capacity in which we are called upon, Kentucky is going to play an integral role in accomplishing the mission.”

The Kentucky National Guard deploys its Soldiers and Airmen for civil service missions, combat operations, disaster relief, and more across the globe, but for many, being activated to the Nation’s Capital was an especially honorable and once-in-a-lifetime experience.

“This is everything I’ve ever dreamed of,” said Army Staff Sgt. Adam Stoppelwerth, the 299th supply sergeant. “I served in Iraq in 2011, and now I get to support the other side of the Guard. My career has come full circle, because now we’re here at the home front protecting the Nation’s Capital—what the Guard was designed for.”

Air Chaplain Col. Fred Ehrman, Joint Force Headquarters liaison, stressed the importance of the joint relationship between the Air Force and Army. As a provider for religious and spiritual support in a joint task force structure, Ehrman sees firsthand the success of the joint task force structure in the Kentucky National Guard.

“I am proud of the Guard because we set the standard on how to operate jointly,” said Ehrman. “There was a spirit of cooperation and a willingness to take on different roles.”

In spite of a divisive era, the National Guard answered the call to action and brought the country together at the Nation’s capital. The unprecedented interstate cooperation and success of this historic National Guard activation sheds new light on the resilience and steadfast loyalty of United States Citizen-Soldiers.

“Everyone here swore an oath to defend the Constitution,” said Stoppelwerth.

“It’s what binds everyone together.”