(WFRV) – More than 550 Citizen Soldiers and Airmen from the Wisconsin National Guard were on hand at the 59th presidential inauguration in Washington D.C. Wednesday.
After preparing over the weekend to assist with safety and security efforts at the inauguration, Wisconsin troops joined more than 25,000 other National Guard troops from every other state and territory in support.
According to a release, Wisconsin Army National Guard units joined Airmen from the Wisconsin Air National Guard’s 128th Air Refueling and the 115th Fighter Wing in proving security in the area surrounding the U.S. Capitol.
Officials say the last time Wisconsin troops served in the national capital region besides for ceremonial purposes dates all the way back to the 1800s and the Civil War.
Many of the Wisconsin troops are a part of various missions the Wisconsin National Guard has supported in the past 12 months, ranging from the pandemic response, to civil unrest in Wisconsin, and serving as poll workers in the state’s elections.
One such Soldier was Spc. Jared Zink. In the past year, officials say he spent several months supporting the state’s COVID-19 pandemic response and also assisted authorities during civil unrest in Kenosha, Wisconsin in August.
“I think it means that the Wisconsin National Guard is one of the best ones. We’re always ready. We’re always prepared, and we can tackle any challenge that comes our way,” says Zink, an Appleton resident.
Zink says he is looking forward to returning to the nation’s capital. His only other time visiting was when he and his family buried his great grandfather, a World War II veteran, at Arlington National Cemetery 10 years ago.
Spc. Christian Zeitler has never been to Washington D.C. before, and the gathering marked his first-ever mobilization in the National Guard.
“I’m a medic, so I’m hoping to just keep people safe and hopefully nothing happens. So hopefully I don’t have to do anything, but if I have to, hopefully I can help get people home safe,” says Zeitler.
Spc. Shane Kieslich says he hadn’t been to Washington since he was there as a seventh-grader. Officials say he is now enrolled at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh where he studies international business.
“We can do so many things. We’ve done the protests. We’ve gone overseas to Afghanistan, and now we get called up for this. I think it says that we can do our jobs well in a professional manner and they trust us to do that job,” says Kieslich, Union Grove native.
Other Citizen Soldiers looked forward to helping with the security mission as well.
Another member of the task force, 1st Lt. Rodrick Watson, left his job as an associate principal at Shawano Middle School in Shawano to support this mission.
He has been deployed to Iraq during his career, and also as part of the COVID-19 response and as a poll worker during elections in the past year.
“I think that’s what makes this mission unique, because Washington D.C. kind of represents citizenship. It’s the people’s house that got ransacked last week, and we’ve got Citizen Soldiers coming to defend the people’s house this week in case anyone tries that again,” says Watson, a former history teacher.
Officials say he’s been to Washington D.C. many times over the course of his life leading student tour groups as a teacher and school administrator including in 2001 when he saw the Pentagon still smoldering after the attacks of 9/11.
“You can only have a democracy if you choose to keep it,” he says. “So you have to have an informed citizenry and peaceful transfer of power, and you have to respect people’s rights along the way. So the National Guard represents all those things, and the peaceful transfer of power is not something that is easy or automatic or that most countries even get right. But we have to. So that peaceful transfer of power, we’ve been able to do that for 59 inaugurations, and we intend to do it again this time.”
The Soldiers and Airmen from Wisconsin will be on hand in Washington D.C. as long as civil authorities there request their assistance in support of the inauguration.