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Marching in the 2009 Presidential Inaugural Parade was more than just marching

January 21, 2009

My experience in the AmeriCorps Alumni march was actually much more than just marching in the 2009 Presidential Inaugural Parade Tuesday. The day before we the Alum’s met outside RFK stadium near the Armory just across the street from where we received our marching uniforms for Tuesday. Prior to receiving our uniforms, some of us volunteered in a huge event that was held inside RFK stadium at what was at one time the home of the Redskins, and the Nationals.

The service project was to make Care packages for troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. The goal was to make 75-thousand Care packages, which was a huge undertaking. To accomplish this, the project had been advertised locally as part of the Martin Luther King Day…Day of Service.

There was a huge outpouring of community from the DC-Maryland area. There were people there from all parts of the country as well that came to make these care packages, as many as 10-thousand were anticipated to attend the effort. Each care package included a letter from the person.

My role was to head up an assembly line effort towards the letter writing campaign. From our assembly line, we had certificates for each writer, a tote bag donated from Target, a bottle of water and a Obama Brownie. Our assembly line was located outside the heated tent area from where the television camera crews were, and eventually where the first lady made an appearance.

We performed our role without complaint to the cold temperatures that at times included snow-flurries. I helped out until noon before receiving my marching uniform and then retreating back to my hotel room to rest and get ready for the big day on Tuesday which I knew would be long and cold that would begin early. I wanted to try my uniform on to make sure it fit. The uniforms were donated by Nike and as a group we would ultimately look as professional and proud as any of the other marching groups in the parade.

On Tuesday I rose at 2 am. I set multiple alarms so I would wake up. My plan was to take the first Metro subway into the city. Metro began operation at 4 with the first train. What a surprise for me when I arrived at 3:30 and there were literally thousands already in line. When the gates opened to the boarding area at Vienna station, there was a rush to get on the cars. That alarmed me initially. We all began to get on the train and were packed in like sardines. No real room but to stand, hang on to the rail and begin some limited conversations with those around you.

I had to get off at Rosslyn station to catch another train bound for the Pentagon City mall. I fought my way to the door and exited to find my way to the next subway. Imagine me citizen Knarr…and volunteer up navigating the streets of Washington D.C. our Nations Capital before dawn. I felt so small, a little on edge for fear of what crime may be lurking in the bushes etc., but overall I arrived at the staging area, inside the Mall. The metro exit leads right into the Mall that was open. Our group slowly formed in the food court beginning at 5. We had a four-hour wait until the buses arrived and our ride to the Pentagon began. Each of us AmeriCorps alum’s sat and developed friendships, learning about each others lives, and their devotion to service in the AmeriCorps program.

While we waited outside the Pentagon, we listened to C-Span radio coverage of the Oath of Office and we heard the Speech delivered by our new President. We saw Ex-President Bush fly away by helicopter. I had kept in touch with my wife by phone and she was telling me the Mall had been closed where people were listening to the speech, so I knew there were going to be a lot of people there. But, I had no idea just how many until I saw on someone’s blackberry a picture taken on USA today. After the delay of the start of the parade, we began to march.

The parade itself was not well attended, but reports of 300-thousand were nothing of what I saw. That number may have included the police and army that lined the parade route. Their presence was everywhere. Washington D.C appeared that of a police state. The parade route was also lined with chain linked fence that stood about 8-10 ft tall. And all along the way, we could see armed sharp shooters on the tops of buildings. As we marched along the way, every so often we gave prepared cheers of our groups for Service and at those same times, an announcer would introduce us.

We were right behind the Hampton University Marching Band. I marched in the first position on the left in row six carrying the flag from the State of Vermont. Some of us had flag holders, but I held my flag with one arm out in front of me like you would see done at the Olympics. When my left arm tired, I would switch over to my right and wave with the other arm.

Along the parade route, we would hear voices from the crowd yell AmeriCorps in support of the program and us as if they were familiar with it. It gave us a sense of pride when we heard it, and we would wave back to them. Our final approach in the parade was before the presidential viewing stand, and I must say, I was never more proud of the volunteer effort I made as I turned and looked toward President Obama and Vice President Biden waving and looking towards both of them and their families. They all waved back smiling as if we somehow had known about their message during the campaign of service to community.

President Obama has spoken often about service to country. And there is so much to get done and needs are great. After the parade, each of us sat on the buses and spoke of our experiences, how proud we were and what we expressed. I believe is the start of another chapter for each of us AmeriCorps Alum’s as the program develops and grows. Tuesday was a day for us all to be proud of what we did, for others, the program, and the fellowship we shared that day. I am sure we will all reflect fondly of this day in our lives, and the program itself. For the AmeriCorps Motto reads:

I will carry this commitment with me…. This year and beyond!

Bill Knarr

January 21, 2009

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