It had been just over three weeks since the election, and my phone was buzzing. It was one of the people I worked with on the campaign, and I knew exactly why he was calling. “Eli,” he said. “I’m working on the Presidential Inaugural Committee, and I need to build out a staff. Are you in?” Of course I was in — this was the call I had been waiting for. Within three days, I was driving down I-95 on my way to Washington, D.C.
After doing advance on the campaign, I managed to get a spot on the Public Events team for the Committee. Specifically, I oversaw the development and implementation of a strategic communications plan for the team on the National Mall during then President-elect Donald Trump’s swearing-in. For weeks, I sat in meetings with the U.S. Secret Service, National Park Police, military elements, production companies and other PIC staffers coordinating logistics for this mammoth event.
In the months leading up to the election, I bounced from city to city, helping organize massive campaign rallies for candidate Trump. I usually arrived with three other staffers a couple days before an event and was expected to coordinate everything within 48 hours. Life on the road was a constantly repeating, four-day cycle: travel day, walkthrough day, buildout day, gameday. After setting up over 30 rallies — often with over 10,000 people in attendance — in such short amounts of time and with such a small staff, I figured having two months for the inauguration would be far too much time. I was wrong.
The PIC was mostly comprised of campaign staffers and our Republican National Committee counterparts who executed the 2016 RNC in Cleveland, Ohio. I can say confidently that we had an amazing collection of some of the most talented event planners this country has — the task was tall, but our staff was ready. Before actually beginning, I did not quite comprehend just how much goes into an inauguration.
To the casual viewer, the ceremony is quite simple: the incoming President gets to the stage, the Chief Justice administers the oath of office and the new President delivers a speech. In truth, there is so much more to January 20 every four years. The inauguration is declared a National Security Special Event, the highest possible security designation for an event. Law enforcement coordinated assignments for hundreds of Transportation Security Administration officers, Homeland Security employees, State Troopers and Secret Service agents.
For two months, inauguration staffers were the lifeblood of the event: they sorted through thousands of event planning applicants, innovated food services, navigated the variegated permit regulations on the National Mall and even handled the complex ticketing of Inauguration Day. We needed those full two months to get everything ready.
On the day of the event, I was one of just six people in the PIC command post, a trailer near the media village where we ran all our communications. I sat near the front, facing the National Mall, monitoring a radio with 13 different channels. From time to time, we consulted our master map, a law enforcement-sensitive document outlining all security checkpoints in the city. We also had the minute-by-minute timeline for the day, which gave us an idea of every relevant movement on the National Mall. Next to our command post was the production trailer, where staffers kept tabs on multiple screens to run our jumbotron.
From our team, one staffer was assigned to represent PIC in the production trailer; another was assigned to handling the media village; two more were tasked to the Washington Monument grounds in case we had overflow there; two roamed the National Mall and ensured proper flow at security checkpoints; and I ran communications from our command post. After the dozens of meetings with all inauguration stakeholders during my time with PIC, I was prepared to respond to all requests in real time. Doing advance for the President during his campaign made me resourceful, and that was the quality I needed most on Inauguration Day.
Our day began at 4 a.m., entering the secure perimeter from 12th Street and Constitution Avenue. From there, we worked with law enforcement to get our staff and volunteers through the gates, allowing them time to set up and prepare for our opening to the general public.
I stood with another staffer, who was also from the campaign, at the 12th Street and Independence Avenue checkpoint. As soon as I heard over the radio that our boss decided to open up the bag checks and begin admitting people, I looked at my counterpart. “Now,” he said, and our one word exchange led us sprinting across the National Mall to the command post, understanding too well the craziness that was about to ensue. As soon as we opened the checkpoints, hundreds of thousands of supporters descended on the National Mall to watch Mr. Trump become president.
As the day progressed, the radio crackled with updates from different zones. Perhaps the most difficult task of the day was getting one of the catering team’s gator utility vehicles from Fourth Street to the Washington Monument and back. Since the vehicle passed through multiple zones, this required communication from various Secret Service leads to a credentialed liaison. They ensured the gator could get through the route. Even when law enforcement at one of the stops would not let the gator through, communication was so efficient, only seconds passed before we got the head Secret Service agent on the phone to authorize the movement.
Throughout the day, there were many such situations, where top security personnel were just as — if not more — accessible as the agent was. Being in the middle of this back-and-forth on the radio was exhilarating.
All told, the inauguration went well, and the National Mall was properly equipped to accommodate the hordes of Americans who went to witness the peaceful transfer of power. We did our job and played a key part in putting on an unforgettable event. For me, January 21 felt a lot like November 9, which was defined by three major things: a sense of relief, a boatload of sleep and a depressing flatline on the adrenaline meter.
It breaks my heart to miss the first 100 days of the administration — I turned down the opportunity to join right away to come back to NYU and finish my last undergraduate semester. I’ll be back in May with a degree in my hand, but I know the next few months will be excruciating as my six-month adrenaline high comes to an abrupt halt. At 20 years old, I had a taste of the sleepless rush of government and politics at the highest level, and it is the most amazing thing I have ever done.
A version of this article appeared in the Monday, Jan. 23 print edition. Email Eli Nachmany at [email protected]