The military's role in guarding Pope Francis during his U.S. visit was mostly behind the scenes but more than 150 volunteers from the Air National Guard eagerly served up front as Metro cops for the day when the popular pontiff was in Washington, D.C.
The airmen from the 113th Wing were sworn in and deputized for duty as special police by the Washington, D.C., Metropolitan Police while Francis was at the White House and the Capitol in his historic address to Congress, according to an Air National Guard news release.
Their duties as temporary police officers included crowd and traffic control, but their man job was just assisting the thousands of spectators trying to get close and catch a glimpse of Francis.
"Operation Roman Watch was my first task force," said Airman 1st Class Darla Robertson, an aircraft electrician with the 113th Maintenance Squadron aircraft electrician. "My duties included security checks for those who attended the parade. I was excited and nervous about the event, but the briefing and training for the task force prepared me for it."
The 150 Guardsmen who served as volunteer police were backed up by about 350 Army National Guard members assigned to other duties for Francis' visit to Washington, said Capt. Duane Peterson, the deputy task for commander for Operation Roman Watch.
"There are over 500 Guardsmen in this task force which makes the logistics difficult, but as Capital Guardians, we are trained and equipped to handle this mission," Peterson said. "We are happy to support the local community and making this a safe event for all is our honor.”
Aboard his plane on the way back to Rome, Francis thanked all those who helped with events and protected him.
"In Washington, it was a warm welcome, but a bit more formal," Francis said. "In New York, a bit beyond all limits. In Philadelphia, very expressive. Different ways, but the same welcome."
He also gave thanks that there were no major incidents during his stay. "No provocations, no challenges," he said. "They were all well-behaved, normal. No insults, nothing bad."
--Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@military.com.