An American experience

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Several people from Shelby County traveled to the presidential inauguration to take in the moment of American history.

By Lisa King

Caught up in a whirlwind of festivities from balls to parades to concerts to the swearing in of the 45th president of the United States on the West Lawn of the Capitol, some Shelby Countians who attended the 58th Presidential Inauguration in Washington D.C. over the weekend expressed awe and pride at having seen history in the making.


For some, such as the Justice family, being there was a matter of pride in a military background, said Selina Stratton, who attended with her parents, James and LaGeni Justice and her brother, Jacob Justice.

"All the men in my family served in the military except for my brother who went to dental school, and I myself was born on Shaw Air Force Base in Sumter, South Carolina because my dad was in the Air Force, so being patriotic is very important in my family," she said.

For others, such as Robert Sproul, the experience was a dream come true.

Although he's only 17, the Collins High School junior already has high expectation for his future - he wants to someday be president of the United States.

"Yeah, that would be pretty cool," he said.


An American Christmas

His mother, Beth Sproul, said the trip to Washington D.C. was Robert's idea.

"He was the one behind our venture," she said. "He has been a Trump fan from the very beginning, and right before the election, he said, ‘I’d like to go to the inauguration if Donald Trump wins,’ so it was a Christmas gift for him. I just got to tag along with him because he couldn’t go by himself. It was a great experience – it was awesome."

"It was a really fun experience, no matter whether you support the candidate or not," he said. "It was more than what I expected. It was enjoyable to be able to relate to people and talk about what we all felt was wrong with the country and how we think the new president is going to fix it. I did not see him up close at all, he was just a little spec whenever I saw him, but they had the big screen you can watch, so that’s enjoyable."

Sproul said when he discovered he was going to be able to attend the event, he was over the top, but the real excitement came later.

"When I first found out, I was excited, but it didn't really register until we were on the plane to leave and that's when I thought, 'I'm actually going,'" he said. "It was a pretty cool experience."

Sproul said that he wants to pursue a career in law to prepare for the presidency someday.

"I think I'll try to go somewhere [college] local first, then I'll figure out where I want to live so I can get my law degree there and I won't have to think about moving afterward," he said.

Beth Sproul chuckled as she recalled the first time Robert expressed interest in heading up the nation's executive office.

"I’m not sure how old he was when he said he wanted to be president," she said. "He was in a leadership program in seventh grade at West Middle School and they went to Washington D.C., and that’s what got him interested in politics."

They attended a concert Thursday night at the Lincoln Memorial, took in the parade on Friday and did some sightseeing, said Beth Sproul, adding that the trip was one she'll always remember.

"For me, it was sharing history with my son," she said. "Regardless of what side of the fence you’re on, or what you believe, the inauguration of a president, to be able to share that with my son, was pretty awesome."


All American event

Stratton, who attended the All American Ball as well as the parade and the inauguration, expressed similar sentiments.

"It was amazing," she said. "I can’t believe the volume of people that were there and the patriotic pride that everyone had. Everywhere we would walk, you could just see people stopping and thanking the Secret Service, the National Guard, and just officers, for their service – it was just very patriotic."

The expression of patriotism made for some very emotional moments, said Stratton, adding that she embraced that aspect totally.

"It was just completely unreal to be with all these hundreds of thousands of people that were just cheering and crying," she said. "There were 85-year old women in fur coats waving American flags, and it was unreal to see that many people come together and to be there to witness it in person and be a part of that cheering crowd."

But the excitement didn't stop there, she said.

"The ball was amazing too – how many people can say that they were within six feet from Buzz Aldrin, and Oliver North?"

Stratton said she'd like to go again someday, with her husband, Josh, who didn't get to go because he could not get away from his dental practice, and her two kids, Aryahna, a seventh grader at West Middle School and Nolan, a fifth-grader at Simpsonville Elementary.

"I didn’t take my children because I didn’t really know how it would be and some people said there might be some protesting, but we did not run into any protestors whatsoever," she said. "With all the discord that was supposed to going on, it was very peaceful and people were very helpful and friendly, and just a very positive experience for us, we met some really nice people."


Nationwide help

With the possibility of some unrest at the event, 3,000 police officers from around the country were brought in to help with crowd control, a typical procedure at every inauguration, although there were more officers this year, said Keith Armstrong, a detective with Kentucky State Police and Shelby County native.

"That freed up the [Washington] D.C. Police to be out and handle the regular policing duties and any disturbances that arose that were not on the parade route itself," he said.

Armstrong said 52 KSP troopers participated in security measures, mostly for the parade. They were selected by choosing detective of the year and trooper of the year for each post – he and Eddie Whitworth of Shelby County – represented Post 12.

"Our primary duty during the inauguration was providing security on the parade route," he said. "We were on foot, standing guard, separating the crowd from the parade route and we were positioned between 14th and 15th street on Pennsylvania Avenue so we were actually a block away from the White House."

Officers had to be very vigilant when the president was near, he said.

"We had strict orders that when he was approaching, we were to be strictly focused on the crowd," he said.

Armstrong, a 1992 Shelby County High School graduate, said he was very impressed by the huge parade, that had no floats, but plenty of splendor with marching bands that represented all branches of the military – his favorite was the Virginia Military Institute's marching band with more than 1,100 members.

"It was a neat spectacle to be a part of," he said. "We were there for a particular purpose, but got to enjoy it nonetheless."

The most enjoyable thing for him, he said, was working shoulder to shoulder with officers from so many different places.

"Just being out there with all the other law enforcement agencies from across the county and getting to see all those different kinds of uniforms and equipment, that was very memorable," he said, adding that being a part of the mass swearing in ceremony was also unforgettable.

But while the assignment was enjoyable, it was tough at times.

"Long hard days and the weather was not very friendly, although it was warmer than in years past," said Whitmore. "We're out there standing fourteen or fifteen hours and it's hard on your body, that's for sure."

Although officers were prepared to be on their toes, he was relieved that fear turned out to be unfounded, said Whitworth.

"We were prepared for rioting and all that other stuff, a lot of activist groups, more of a possibility of violence with this election, but we personally didn't have any issues," he said.

The officers also got to take in some sightseeing, visiting museums, monuments and memorials. Whitworth said that though the duty was sometimes grueling, it was one of the most rewarding experiences of his law enforcement career.

"We got to see a lot of history, but mostly, you don't get to interact with other [work] details," he said. "We were with Lexington Metro a lot and the Georgia State Police. It's unique to work with those police agencies and that was really cool."

And bringing those officers together was just the start. Robert Sproul noted that his favorite part, the actual address, was designed not to set policy, but instead to try to bring America together.

"It wasn't idea based, it was more along the lines of trying to unite the people, which I thought was important because it was not to get people to believe in him necessarily, but to believe in America."