Inauguration Day began at 2 a.m for Jonathan Bratten and Ellen Morrison.
The two Maine National Guard members went to work in the shadow of the U.S. Capitol, a place that later in the day should have been populated by thousands of tourists under normal circumstances. On Wednesday, it was just them and hundreds of other guard members.
Bratten, a captain and commander of the 251st Engineer Company from Portland, and Morrison, a first lieutenant and executive officer in that company from Bowdoin, helped oversee logistics and coordinated with other units and agencies to make sure the day ran smoothly.
Both are veterans of the Maine Army National Guard, but neither had experienced a mission like this one as two of more than 25,000 guardspeople, including up to 200 from Maine, were tasked with protecting President Joe Biden’s swearing-in after the deadly Jan. 6 riots, when supporters of former President Donald Trump stormed the U.S. Capitol.
From left (clockwise): Soldiers with the Maine Army National Guard, stand guard in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 19; Capt. Jonathan Bratten stands his post during the Maine National Guard’s support to the 59th Presidential Inauguration; Soldiers with the Maine Army National Guard, stand guard in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 19. Credit: Courtesy of Spc. Christopher Hall & 1st Lt. Ellen Morrison | U.S. Army National Guard
Guard members were alerted a week before the inauguration that they would be deployed. Bratten had been deployed to Vermont to respond to Hurricane Irene and Afghanistan before, but working Inauguration Day security was on a much bigger scale, he said. For Morrison, who grew up near Washington, the moment was surreal.
“I visited all these places as a kid, and now I’m sleeping in them during my rest time,” she said.
The inauguration went smoothly after local and federal authorities were on high alert after the Federal Bureau of Investigations warned of potential armed protests in all 50 states and the capital. Accommodations for guard members were not smooth, however. All were told to leave the Capitol on Thursday, and several thousand were sent to sleep in unheated parking garages.
It caused an outcry from lawmakers in a stark contrast to images of Guard members working prior to Wednesday, curled up on cots in the halls where Congress members usually walk on the same day the Democratic-led House moved to impeach Trump for the second time in a year.
Bratten and Morrision did not experience that trouble. Maine Guard members were shuffled through hotel rooms and posts in federal buildings, moving as required. On Inauguration Day, their unit worked 24 hours, snatching limited sleep in the buildings surrounding the Supreme Court and Library of Congress. The day was chilly and marked by a biting wind. Bratten remembered members expressing relief when the sun came out, providing some warmth.
From left (clockwise): Maine National Guard soldiers are welcomed to Washington, D.C., by Gen. Daniel Hokanson, chief of the National Guard Bureau; A Maine National Guard soldier stands his post during the Maine National Guard’s support to the 59th Presidential Inauguration. Credit: Courtesy of Capt. Jonathan Bratten
Maine’s members were not an active part of Inauguration Day, but they saw elements that many do not, such as rehearsals and the preparations of the ceremonial units. Both Bratten and Morrison have been in training scenarios in which people packed together can lose patience with one another on little sleep. This mission was the opposite, Bratten said.
“Everyone was really going at it with a sense of goodwill,” he said.
On Saturday, neither was sure when they would come home. Their mission is not yet over. Their job now is to keep coordinating supplies for troops while figuring out how to eventually get equipment home. But there is a sense of relief that Inauguration Day is over.
“I am grateful there was such a smooth transition of power and I’m grateful for the unit I was able to go with and how efficient the mission went,” Morrison said.