WASHINGTON — Derrick Brooks puts his left hand on the book and raises his right, ready to take the oath of office. Dozens of cameras capture this moment in history, even though Brooks is wearing a name card reading "Pres.-elect Obama."
"It felt great to be famous for one day," Brooks told reporters after spending hours standing in for Barack Obama during Sunday's dress rehearsal for the presidential inaugural Jan. 20.
Organizers picked the 26-year-old Army staff sergeant from Fayetteville, N.C., because he resembles Obama in height, weight and skin color. But he's not an exact match. When Brooks met Obama last Thursday, "he said my ears weren't as big as his."
Admitted to the exclusive club of stand-ins were military personnel from the area who resembled Obama's wife, Michelle, Vice President-elect Joe Biden and others expected on the inaugural stage. Even a faux President George W. Bush showed up as inaugural officials worked out the kinks in their plans for what likely will be the biggest ceremony the nation's capital has ever hosted.
Stand-ins took their places
As the sky over the Capitol grew light, cannons boomed, military bands played marching music and stand-ins took their places.
The 6-foot 2-inch Brooks stood stock still as several handlers moved the man facing him, a stand-in for Chief Justice John Roberts, to the right — then left, then right again, before marking the spot with brightly colored tape. Small shifts and fixes were all part of a long day.
"It's important to rehearse this so it goes off flawlessly on the inauguration day," said Navy Chief Petty Officer Lucy Quinn, spokeswoman for the Armed Forces Inaugural Committee. "The president is supposed to take the oath of office as close to noon as can possibly be timed."
Even before the stand-ins took their places, the U.S. Marine Band and U.S. Army Herald Trumpets fine-tuned their performances. The musicians chuckled at those who made mistakes while practicing.
Sam Myers, a top campaign aide who Biden recently named to a staff post, checked out the scene and walked among the stand-ins. He and other aides to the president-elect and vice president elect at the rehearsal will walk their bosses through what they should expect, according to Howard Gantman, staff director of the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies.
Mock-up of the motorcade
Later, on the east side of the Capitol, the military practiced landing the helicopter that will take Bush to Andrews Air Force Base after Obama has become president. Then the helicopter was replaced by a mock-up of the motorcade that will carry the new president to the White House.
When the president-elect's name was announced during the practice inauguration, it was "Barack H. Obama" — not Barack Hussein Obama. During the campaign, Obama's middle name — common in the Middle East — was at times used as a negative by people opposed to his election.
After winning the presidency, Obama said he planned to use his full name in the swearing-in ceremony. The Presidential Inaugural Committee said Sunday that Obama still plans to use his middle name when taking the oath of office.
Wearing a grin even wider than Obama's, Brooks told reporters he was honored to participate in the dry run.
"I know it's a change in history," he said, "and it's a historical moment that only happens, that's only going to happen, one time."
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