WASHINGTON– Exactly three weeks before Inauguration Day, the buzz of activity at the Armed Forces Inaugural Committee here is a notable exception to the traditional holiday lull that settles over the nation’s capital between Christmas and New Year’s Day. More than 400 soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and Coast Guardsmen – active duty, reservists and National Guardsmen — are busy preparing for President-elect Barack Obama’s inauguration Jan. 20. Another 300 will report for duty after New Year’s, bringing AFIC to full strength with about 700 servicemembers.

“We’re spinning up for the full dress rehearsal Jan. 11,” Navy Lt. Mike Billips, a reservist from Atlanta serving as an AFIC spokesman, said. The rehearsal will kick off in the dark at about 3 a.m., when participants go through two full iterations of the swearing-in ceremony at the Capitol, then parade down Pennsylvania Avenue toward the White House.

“The curtain goes up on Jan. 20, and everything has to be locked down perfect before then,” Billips said. “So it’s a lot of rehearsal, a lot of coordination and a lot of training for the people who are coming in.”

The incoming servicemembers will get intensive training for the ceremonial support they’ll provide at the inauguration ceremony and 10 official inaugural balls, Billips said. Some will be in the midst of the fanfare, serving as honor guards, marching bands, musical units, salute batteries, drivers, ushers and escorts for distinguished visitors. Others will work behind the scenes, helping to ensure the events go off seamlessly.

Air Force Staff Sgt. Matthew Finney, a telecommunications technician from Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, assigned to AFIC’s information technology directorate, called being a part of the inauguration a rare opportunity. “I am excited to be a part of our nation’s history,” he said.

“I am honored to be a part of a committee of this caliber,” Army Spc. Kevyn Coleman agreed. “This is definitely an assignment to talk about years from now. In my personal opinion, I don’t think that I have ever had a better assignment.”

The 2009 inauguration will be the 56th in which the military has played a role in welcoming the incoming commander in chief. During the first, in April 1789, U.S. Army, local militia units and Revolutionary War veterans escorted George Washington to his inaugural ceremony at New York City’s Federal Hall.

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