Dress rehearsal underway for inauguration

Washington is already in a frenzy to perfect the details of the January 20 inauguration of US President-elect Barack Obama. Pictured: stand-ins for the real first families help sort out the stage directions.


AFP - A crowd cheered, the Marine band struck up "Hail to the Chief," but the man on the dais was just a stand-in, as organizers rehearsed Sunday for president-elect Barack Obama's January 20 inauguration.

A daylong run-through prepped participants for the historic swearing-in ceremony one week from Tuesday, when Obama will stand on a podium at the west side of the US Capitol building and pledge to "faithfully execute the office of president of the United States."

Thousands of military service members took part in Sunday's exercise, while inauguration day principals -- Obama, his wife Michelle, their two daughters and about a dozen others -- were portrayed by stand-ins.

Captain Meritt Phillips, an official with the Armed Forces Inaugural Committee, said the dopplegangers were enlisted military "chosen based on their accurate height, weight, ethnicity and gender."

Obama's two young daughters were portrayed by the children of enlistees.

"Ladies and Gentlemen, the president-elect, Barack H. Obama" an announcer proclaimed over a loudspeaker, using the future president's middle initial even though Obama has said he would use his full name, Barack Hussein Obama, at his swearing-in.

More than 5,000 service members from all branches of the US military are  expected for the actual inauguration ceremony, although a smaller number took part in Sunday's rehearsal.

The US Marine band played "Hail to the Chief" for the Obama look-alike as it has at inaugurations for more than 200 years.

"We've performed for the president's inaugural since 1801," said Kristin Mergen, spokesperson for the music ensemble.

Starring as the president-elect was Army Staff Sergeant Derrick Brooks -- a dead ringer for Obama, if not for the military uniform.

But to erase any doubt about whom he was portraying, a placard around his neck -- similar to nameplates worn by other participants -- read "The President Elect Barack H. Obama."

Brooks raised his right hand, placed his hand on a Bible and vowed to "preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States," as the president-elect will do, and as the 43 US chief executives before Obama have as well.

The army sergeant also presided over a review of US military, as Obama will after being sworn in and after he departs for a parade route lined with well-wishers.

Dominique Sewell, 14, said she was thrilled with her turn playing the elder Obama daughter Malia, who is actually 10.

"I'm honored to be a part of history," said Sewell, daughter of army sergeant first class Nathalie Sewell-Johnson.

One major difference from real inauguration events is that about 200 onlookers were at the scene, cheering heartily despite the predawn hour and frigid temperatures.

But planners have said they expect millions next week to throng the Mall -- a three-kilometer-long (1.9 mile) grassy expanse between Capitol Building and the Washington monument -- for the real event.

Vicky Cork, an onlooker from the neighboring state of Maryland, lamented that Sunday's dress rehearsal was as close as she'd be able to get to the event.

"I won't be able to go to the inauguration, so I thought it was the next best thing to do," she said.

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