While the inauguration of President Joe Biden played live in homes across the country last week, Sgt. Jasmine Reuteler of the Florida National Guard was watching closely on her computer in a hotel conference room a few blocks from the White House.
She was checking traffic cameras for any large gatherings of people on the streets of Washington, D.C. She was looking for anyone with wall-breaching equipment or suspicious packages. She had reviewed the timeline for the day’s events and continued to look ahead to its next two key locations, making sure they were clear for Biden and others headed that way.
Reuteler, 26, of Tampa was one of about 600 members of the Florida National Guard who deployed to Washington to provide inauguration security on Jan. 20, two weeks after an attack on the U.S. Capitol by Trump supporters. Guard members returned to Florida last weekend after about a week and a half away.
As an intelligence non-commissioned officer, Reuteler said she spent at least 13 hours a day in the tactical operations center, reporting what she saw to the FBI, the U.S. Secret Service and other law enforcement agencies. Her team’s job was to share information on potential threats to the ceremony, the president or the American people.
“You really did feel the weight of it,” she said. “It’s a historic event in the making, but it isn’t history yet. You’re there in the midst of it at that present moment.”
In addition to the intelligence missions, Florida guardsmen stood guard around the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial and other monuments, and patrolled Washington streets, said spokeswoman Lt. Col. Caitlin Brown. They joined about 25,000 National Guard members from every state and territory, who were assigned to the inauguration.
For Pfc. Anny Polanco of Tampa, the inauguration deployment gave her a chance to reunite with peers she met in basic training who are stationed across the country. It also meant getting to see the U.S. capital for the first time.
“I was kind of like flabbergasted at how huge and just breathtaking the Lincoln monument is,” Polanco said.
A full-time student at the University of Central Florida, the 18-year-old Polanco stood guard in downtown Washington for 8-hour shifts. Her family prayed for her every day, she said, hoping she wouldn’t be assigned to secure the U.S. Capitol, because they were worried about a second attack.
But Polanco, who serves as a combat medic, said she felt confident in the security plan, including the regular temperature checks and symptom evaluations for COVID-19 among the troops. She’s now back to taking online classes at home.
“I honestly just felt kind of glad that I got to be a part of history,” she said.
The past year has been busy for the Florida National Guard.
Guardsmen have helped with COVID-19 testing and vaccinations, worked with food banks receiving donations and provided hurricane relief. They have deployed for federal missions, including to the Middle East, to the inauguration and to help with security during times of civil unrest, in Florida and earlier in Washington, D.C., Brown said.
“This has just really been the year of the Guard,” she said.
Reuteler was one of the Florida guardsmen who deployed to Washington in June 2020 to help ensure that protests following the death of George Floyd remained peaceful, she said.
After she got home from her most recent deployment, Reutler finally told her family where she had been for the previous week and a half. She didn’t tell them before, because she didn’t want to worry them.
She is taking time off from her job as a director of development at Chick-Fil-A to catch up on schoolwork she missed while away.
“It’s business as usual,” she said. “The next day, you come back to your civilian life, and all of a sudden, you’re not actively protecting the president of the United States.”