Washington, D.C. -- For our countries leaders, the road to Washington is paved with politics. For eight Soldiers of the 81st Regional Support Command, their path to the nation's capitol was carved out of history via the lineage of service and sacrifice of 81st Infantry Division Wildcats from World Wars One and Two and various conflicts up to the present day.
On January 21 the 81st RSC's historical WWI color guard marched down Pennsylvania Avenue in the 57th Presidential Inauguration parade. Preparation and practice for the event began weeks earlier after command historian Dr. John Boyd was informed that his application had been approved - one out of over 2,000 others from which 105 were actually chosen. Boyd expected rejection rather than acceptance. "I have applied for this event every [election] year since 1992," he told local news reporters when they stopped by Fort Jackson to do a story during a dress rehearsal.
In the application, Boyd highlighted the back story of the 81st Wildcats, the unit patch being the first ever in the Army, the Division's World War record as well as the current operations. "I told them there probably wouldn't be many doughboys in the parade," he said.
Once the application was accepted and participants were indentified, practicing became paramount to mission success. Two troops were to carry a new 81st RSC banner while four were in the replica WWI uniforms and one was in a WWII uniform. A civilian, who does era presentations in the Columbia area, wore an authentic WWI outfit. Mr. Dane Coffman, who bears a striking resemblance to Gen. John J. "Black Jack" Pershing, rounded out the group. The final dress rehearsal left the team feeling good about their upcoming appearance in front of the Commander-in-Chief.
The day before the parade, the group headed into D.C. from their hotel in Fairfax, Va., and met, in costume, with Congressman Joe Wilson of South Carolina's 2nd District. Wilson welcomed the group into his office and took photos with the entire team. He wished them luck and thanked them for traveling all the way to D.C. for the event.
After meeting with Wilson, more photos were taken in front of the U.S. Capitol building as it was bedecked with patriotic streamers and American flags. For the rest of the afternoon, the Wildcats got the paparazzi experience. All sorts of people from all over the world asked to take pictures with them. They were even interviewed live to Paris by a French TV station. On the day of the parade, Elon Local News from Elon University in North Carolina and KITV-4 from Honolulu interviewed different members.
Prior to the parade itself, the anticipation was palpable. While at the staging area, to kill time, two high school drum-lines faced off in a friendly competition. Jackson Memorial High School from New Jersey and Kamehameha High School from Honolulu performed various percussion arrangements much to enjoyment of those waiting to march and the crowd behind the barriers.
During the parade, spectators cheered and waved. South Carolinians made themselves and their pride known. History buffs yelled out "Doughboys!" as the color guard passed them. Every half a mile or so, there were announcers telling the crowd who it was they were seeing.
As the 81st Wildcats passed the reviewing stand and the First Family stood for the colors, "Gen. Pershing" rendered the salute to the President. As they reached the release area, Boyd called out, "We did it!"
"This was a great experience," said Capt. Christina Teagarden, the officer in charge. "I'm extremely proud of them."
"It's an honor and a privilege to represent the 81st in this parade," said Staff Sgt. Jeremy Glasco. "I got to carry the colors in front of the President of the United States. How many people get to do that?"
"It was outstanding," said Spec. Antoinette Walker who helped carry the 81st banner. "But it was surreal. You don't think it's something you would ever get to do until you actually do it, but it is such an honor." All of the 81st Soldiers expressed great pride in having been selected to participate in the parade. "I have 'perma-grin' whenever I talk about it," Walker added.
The color guard consisted of retired Col./Dr. John Boyd and First Sgt. Thomas White as rifleman, Staff Sgt. Jeremy Glasco with the National Colors, Chief Warrant Officer 4 Jeff Osler with the 81st Division colors. Mr. Dane Coffman, a local civilian re-enactor, was dressed as Gen. John J. Pershing. The banner bearers were Staff Sgt. Neisha Boyd and Spec. Antoinette Walker. Capt. Christina Teagarden and First Sgt. Bill Goss served as key support staff.