Soon, thousands of National Guard members will descend upon Washington, D.C. to begin preparing to support the 59th presidential inauguration of President-Elect Joe Biden.
So far, Army and Air Guard commands from nearly 30 states have pledged to support what has become a huge tradition for the citizen soldiers.
"Every four years ... this is the biggest event that the National Guard works," Air Force Senior Master Sgt. Craig Clapper, spokesman for the District of Columbia National Guard, told Military.com.
About 7,800 Guard personnel supported President Donald Trump's inauguration in 2016, but the restrictions under COVID-19 may mean that Biden's Jan. 20 inauguration is a smaller-scale event, Guard officials said in a Dec. 21 Army release.
But the D.C. National Guard, which is responsible for identifying requirements and requesting support from other states, is planning for all contingencies, Clapper said.
"Right now, we have commitments from multiple states for over 4,000 people, but that could easily go up to 7,000, or it could even decrease just depending on what the inauguration will look like," Clapper said. "At this very moment, we don't know exactly what it's going to look like."
Guard members will assist D.C. Park Police and other law enforcement with crowd management, traffic control, emergency response services and communication support.
"We do street blockings, entry control points for certain areas ... a lot of it is just crowd control," Clapper said.
"Normally for inaugurations, we are there a handful of days before ... we have actually already had some personnel come in."
What's still unclear is if Trump's supporters will stage rallies designed to disrupt the event. Several pro-Trump groups have pledged to protest in D.C. on Jan. 6 -- the day the Congress is set to conduct a formal count of Electoral College votes and officially name Biden as the winner of the Nov. 3 election.
"Threats of violence, ploys to smuggle guns into the District and calls to set up an 'armed encampment' on the Mall have proliferated in online chats about the Jan. 6 day of protest. The Proud Boys, members of armed right-wing groups, conspiracy theorists and white supremacists have pledged to attend," the Washington Post reported.
This summer, more than 5,200 Guard members converged on D.C. to support police as tens of thousands of demonstrators protested the May 25 death of George Floyd, a Black man who died while in custody of Minneapolis police. Many demonstrators became violent, but Guard members mainly were on site to man roadblocks, prevent crowds from trespassing White House grounds and protect key monuments in the city.
So far, Guard officials are not expecting any protests on inauguration day, but troops will be ready, Clapper said.
"We always have the security aspect; if something were to happen in terms of an event that would require law enforcement, we are kind of there in a support role," Clapper said. "[In] no inaugurations past have we had to go into any kind of law enforcement role. With this inauguration, we don't anticipate that either, but we still plan for increased numbers of personnel in the area as a just-in-case scenario."
While the event will no doubt be hectic, Guard members also look at inaugurations as a chance to be part of history.
"We have parts of the parade where we will stand along the perimeter usually when the president drives through to offer the salute ... so normally there is a lot of pomp and circumstance," Clapper said.
-- Matthew Cox can be reached at email@example.com.