Only a few dozen men have had the honor of standing before the U.S. Capitol, right hand held high in a promise to serve their country as president. But on Sunday, with the mile-long length of the Mall stretching off into the distance, Staff Sgt. Serpico D. Elliott got to experience firsthand what it felt like to get to take the Oath of Office.
His one-word assessment: Amazing.
With a week to go until President Obama is sworn in for his second term, final preparations are under way for the 57th presidential inauguration, and among the concluding tweaks to the ceremony was a dress rehearsal that spanned the first step-off of the presidential escort to the final wave to the crowd gathered outside 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
At about noon, Sgt. Elliott stepped through the entrance tunnel to the inaugural platform on the West Lawn of the Capitol, a white sign hanging from his neck indicating he was representing Mr. Obama.
Sgt. Elliott joined his stand-in Michelle, 20-year-old Army Spc. Delandra Rollins, at the front of the platform. Minutes later, he placed his left hand on a black portfolio held by the faux first lady, raised his right hand and smiled.
“It’s definitely a once-in-a-lifetime event,” the Fort Meade, Md., resident said, his face splitting into a wide grin. “It’s an amazing feeling, even if it’s for a day.”
At 6-feet-2-inches tall, with gray-tinged, close-cropped hair, Sgt. Elliott said people had occasionally mentioned his passing resemblance to the president. A selection panel apparently saw the same features and chose him, along with three other military members, to stand in for four of the most recognizable faces in the country during Sunday’s rehearsal.
The foursome was chosen from 16 candidates, partly for their resemblance but also for the physical similarities, such as height and weight, that they shared with the famous power couples. For example, Master Sgt. Richard Bolin, 43, was the stand-in for Vice President Joseph R. Biden, despite his crew cut and facial hair.
“I don’t think the vice president has a mustache,” he pointed out.
“We’re not here to do impressions; we’re here to support the inauguration committee,” said 37-year-old Chief Petty Officer Rachel Washko, an Alexandria resident who spent Sunday morning standing in for Jill Biden, the wife of the vice president.
Brig. Gen. James Scanlan, who serves as the deputy for inaugural support for the Joint Task Force-National Capital Region, said about 5,500 military personnel are a part of the Inauguration.
Several hundred of those military members were on site early Sunday, the pre-dawn fog hiding the Capitol Dome as various bands and ceremonial corps practiced their marches along the western steps of the building.
Combined with the additional members of the inaugural parade down Pennsylvania Avenue, about 10,000 people are set to be a part of next week’s celebration.
After Sunday’s rehearsal, Gen. Scanlan said things went “fairly well,” though he said some tweaks would be made.
“Logistics and communication are always keys to success,” Gen. Scanlan said, adding that the security screening for 10,000 people will be done at the Pentagon and “is one of the biggest moving pieces” of the event.