The Virgin Islands joined more than 7,500 National Guard soldiers and airmen, representing 44 states, three U.S. territories and the District of Columbia, serving with the specially created Joint Task Force-District of Columbia in support of the 58th Presidential Inauguration.
Thirty two Virgin Islands National Guard members deployed in support of the security mission. Two of those members, Capt. Dion Christopher and Sgt. Terry Phillip, the unit ministry team, attended the inauguration on a religious mission.
"Our job was basically to ensure that soldiers' morale and welfare remained upbeat," said Capt. Dion Christopher, VING's chaplain.
The ministry teams, along with the soldiers in their care, were lodged at a school within the capital. "We were assigned to Task Force Capital with another unit ministry team," explained the chaplain.
The team was assigned to a different area of operations from the other VING soldiers, the 661 Military Police Law & Order Detachment, but found a time and a way to minister to them as well.
"We weren't assigned to our soldiers, but when we found out that they were having difficulties, we found a way to them," said Christopher.
The team walked more than five miles to meet with VING soldiers, spend time with them and travel back to their assigned soldiers, added Phillip, the religious affairs specialist.
The task force consisted of more than 700 personnel, and based in the area immediately surrounding the capital.
"We were based out of Ludlow Elementary school [Ludlow-Taylor Elementary School], this is where virtually all of Task Force Capital met so we were able to bed down with the soldiers there, meet with them, and participate in a worship experience on the night prior to the inauguration," he said.
Once the soldier were at their respective posts and the inaugural festivities were underway, the teams set out to visit their soldiers and ensure they were secure in their mission.
"The day of the inauguration we were able to move from post to post and meet and mingle with Soldiers to keep them upbeat," Christopher stated.
Ministering to more than 300 soldiers, spread out over a 5-mile radius with overwhelming crowds took a considerable amount of time and energy- especially when work begins before the sun rises.
"It is a lot of work, we began inauguration day at 0200 and finished at 1500," said the team. "We had a training session the day before that answered all our last minute questions, and imparted last minute instructions," Christopher said of their preparations.
The team described the experience as a great learning experience that bears repeating.
"It is electrifying and it gets even more so when the president gets sworn in and starts to speak," he said. "The experience gives us an opportunity to practice our MOS [military occupational specialty]," Christopher stated.
"It was a big mission and I was also able to see how their JTF works and how the chaplain fits into it. When you have those types of numbers and you can see how a unit ministry team functions that's the kind of experience we need to get so when 'Vigilant Guard' happens, we have first-hand knowledge of how to function."