January 25, 2005

Virginia Guard Soldier helps nab "Handshake Man"

 

Virginia Army National Guard Spc. Jerry Andes offers directions to one of the many people who passed through a U.S. Secret Service checkpoint to watch the Inaugural Parade in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 20. (Photo by Master Sgt. Bob Haskell, National Guard Bureau)

By Master Sgt. Bob Haskell
National Guard Bureau

WASHINGTON - A Virginia Army National Guard Soldier helped the U.S. Secret Service and the U.S. Capitol Police score a touchdown on "Game Day," better known as the 55th Presidential Inauguration, on Jan. 20.

Spc. Jonathan Clark identified one Richard C. Weaver, nicknamed the "Handshake Man" because of his uncanny ability to penetrate security and shake the hands of presidents and other important people, and reported Weaver's presence to a Capitol Police officer that Thursday morning.

Weaver, 59, was arrested a short time later, at 9:45 a.m., on an outstanding Secret Service warrant for unlawful entry and was taken to the Metropolitan Police Department's central cellblock, reported Secret Service spokesperson Lorie Lewis.

Clark also reaffirmed the National Guard's ability to play a critical role in homeland security, including high security events such as this presidential inauguration, acknowledged Maj. John Epperly, commander of the Virginia Army Guard's 2nd Battalion, 116th Infantry which is part of the 29th Infantry Division. Clark is a member of the 2nd Battalion's Company C based in Harrisonburg.

National Guard Bureau Maj. Aaron Overby reported that approximately 1,600 Army and Air National Guard troops from the District of Columbia and eight states were part of or were prepared to support the unprecedented, 13,000-member security force organized to safeguard the inauguration activities.

Another 700 Guard members took part in the ceremonial events - the afternoon's inauguration parade and the evening's balls, he added.

The unpretentious Clark, who is 27, identified the elusive Weaver from a photograph on a Secret Service lookout sheet that Clark and other Virginia Guard Soldiers had been shown early that morning when they began assisting the Secret Service at security checkpoints around the National Mall and Pennsylvania Avenue. The public was screened at those checkpoints before attending the day's activities, including the Inaugural Parade.

Weaver was apprehended at the intersection of First Street and Independence Avenue, Lewis said. That is where Clark was on duty.

Weaver, described as a nondenominational Christian minister, is not considered dangerous. But he has gotten through security points often enough to concern those who protect the president. He shook hands with President George W. Bush during his first inauguration four years ago and with President William Clinton during his second inauguration in 1997.

The religiously-motivated man from Rocklin, Calif., near Sacramento, got nowhere near President Bush during his second inauguration, nor did he embarrass the Secret Service, thanks to the alert Guard Soldier.

The Secret Service warrant stemmed from Weaver's unlawful entry to a National Prayer Breakfast, which President Bush attended, in Washington in February 2003, Lewis explained.

"The Secret Service agent in charge of the checkpoint and a Capitol Police officer were effusive in their praise for Spc. Clark," said Epperly who arrived at the checkpoint a few minutes after Clark identified Weaver. "They said they would have been in a lot of trouble if that guy had gotten through security again.

"I told Spc. Clark 'job well done' and 'outstanding attention to detail'; that he reflected great credit on our battalion, on the Stonewall Brigade and on the entire National Guard," Epperly added. "What he did was really remarkable considering he had only a few minutes to look at that picture and that he picked Mr. Weaver out of the thousands of people who were around that checkpoint."

"I noticed him because he was walking a little faster than most of the other people and because he was moving toward another checkpoint while most other people were moving toward our checkpoint," Clark said. "Then I recognized him from the picture, and I told a Capitol Police captain. She followed him, and I went back to my post. They next thing I know, we're moving people back from our checkpoint so that a police car could get him out.

"It felt great, like I was actually getting something done," said Clark, a construction worker who has been a Virginia Army Guard Soldier since 2001. He joined the Guard as an infantry Soldier after serving for three years in the active Army as a tank mechanic, he explained.

About 100 Virginia Guard Soldiers assisted the Secret Service, the lead federal agency, with the screening mission during the first presidential inauguration since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. The inauguration was a National Special Security Event. 

It was the first time that National Guard Soldiers had assisted with the screening mission during a presidential inauguration. It was also the first time that Virginia Guard Soldiers were able to serve in the District of Columbia, thanks to an historic mutual aid agreement that the adjutants general from Virginia and Maryland and the commanding general of the DC Guard signed in Washington last July 15.

Nearly 1,000 members of the DC Guard helped the Metropolitan Police Department with traffic control and supported other aspects of the security mission, the National Guard Bureau reported.

Three-member Air Guard crews from Florida, Mississippi, Texas, and West Virginia were on hand to fly surveillance missions in twin-engine airplanes, and Massachusetts provided 10 Army Guard Soldiers and two helicopters for medevac missions.

Meanwhile, two civil support teams and a medical and decontamination unit conducted training or remained on call in West Virginia and Virginia, ready to respond to a weapon of mass destruction.

A response force in Maryland was ready to roll, and Pennsylvania Chinook helicopter crews were prepared to fly the Maryland troops to DC in case of an emergency.

"This is a serious paradigm shift for the DC National Guard,"     said Maj. Curtis Cherry, the plans, operations and military support officer. "This is the first time we have conducted joint operations with multiple states. This is the first time we have had outside Guard entities within the district supporting any event."   

Most of the Guard troops remained in the background because, all in all, the inauguration events were peaceful except for some disturbances by demonstrators that the civilian police handled.

The DC Guard's Army and Air Force marching units, in their black and blue hats and overcoats, and the Virginia Army Guard screeners in their green camouflage uniforms were the Guard members who most people saw.

"I think the best part of this is the way people are responding to us," said Spc. James Klotzbach who was on duty at the checkpoint at Seventh Street and Constitution Avenue. "People have shaken our hands and thanked us for what we do. Kids have given us salutes. This gives us a chance to meet with the public, and it gives the public a chance to see us for who we are."                    

It also gave Spc. Jonathan Clark the chance to help prevent the "Handshake Man" from again getting within arms length of President Bush. For that, the Virginia Army Guard Soldier would like to shake hands with the president himself.

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