SMART Transportation Division Local 759 President Rafael Becerra and about seven of his local brothers and sisters departed their Coach USA garage in Paramus, N.J., on Jan. 10, and traveled to Joint Base Andrews in Prince George’s County, Md., to transport our nation’s troops and national guardsmen to protect Washington, D.C., for the Jan. 20 inauguration ceremony.
Becerra stayed in the nation’s capital for two weeks, returning home Jan. 24, while others from his garage stayed an extra week before returning Jan. 31.
Dillon’s Bus Service of Hanover, Md., – an affiliate of Coach USA – was in charge of coordinating with different bus companies that sent their buses and operators to help transport the 26,000 troops (according to militarytimes.com) deployed to D.C.
Employees of Rockland Coaches of Bergenfield, N.J., represented by TD Local 1558, also were called upon to transport troops. Coach bus companies from as far away as Pittsburgh also arrived to help.
According to Becerra, he picked up troops at Andrews and then brought them over to the armory. He then moved them to different hotels and assignments in the D.C. area.
“I also picked up troops from the Reagan airport. The ones I picked up came in from Alaska. I picked up around 29 people,” Becerra said. “I also picked up people from the Florida National Guard from their hotel, and I dropped them off where they were stationed at the African American Museum (National Museum of African American History and Culture).”
Becerra said the first week there was the roughest because he was required to keep making runs from place-to-place and was on call a lot of the time. The troops were constantly coming in during the first week for their assignments, but then there wasn’t a lot of transporting that needed to be done during his second week.
“We waited around a lot at the Andrews base parking lot, waiting to be called upon,” Becerra said.
New Jersey State Legislative Director Ron Sabol had nothing but praise for the members who stepped up to assist.
“Brother Becerra and his fellow members took time away from their families during a pandemic to serve a greater cause than themselves — the protection and safe transition required by our nation’s democratic process,” Sabol said. “This assignment had health and safety risks involved — just days before our bus operators arrived, armed insurrectionists had threatened members of Congress in the U.S. Capitol itself. Our members had no guarantee that they wouldn’t be attacked by domestic terrorists or be exposed to COVID while assisting those troops at our nation’s capital — yet they did it without complaint.
“I thank them for their exemplary display of duty.”
Although he was in the city during the inauguration, Becerra said he did not get to see the ceremony up close.
“I was watching it on my phone, sitting in the parking lot. I was kinda afraid to take pictures,” he said. “You don’t just go wandering around. You go from check point to check point to check point.”
When asked if he had any concerns about contracting COVID-19 while there, Becerra said that he thought things were pretty safe with almost everyone wearing a mask, but he was still a little concerned.
“I would say that 99% of the guys, the troops, they all had masks on. I was tested before I went there, and I was tested when I came back. Thank God I came back in one piece. But it’s all part of the job,” he said.
Becerra said that by the time that he left, a lot of troops were already clearing out.
When asked what the most memorable thing about the trip was, Becerra replied, “I was amazed that I had never seen D.C. so empty. There was nothing. There was no traffic, there were no people walking. You could walk on the other side of the fence, but that was the closest you got. They kept closing down areas, so you didn’t know what was going to be closed.”
SMART-TD thanks Brother Becerra and the other troop transporters for their dedication and congratulates them on a job well done.