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Combat brothers reunite at inauguration with new roles, common mission

Staff Sgt. David Nichols (right), 193rd Special Operations Security Forces Squadron, and Sgt. Jeff Kopp (left), D.C. Metropolitan Police K-9 Corps, reunite on a D.C. street Jan. 20, 2017, while supporting security missions during the 58th Presidential Inauguration. Formerly serving as Marines, the two men deployed together in 2010 on several combat missions in Afghanistan. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by 2nd Lt. Susan Penning/Released)

Staff Sgt. David Nichols (right), 193rd Special Operations Security Forces Squadron, and Sgt. Jeff Kopp (left), D.C. Metropolitan Police K-9 Corps, reunite on a D.C. street Jan. 20, 2017, while supporting security missions during the 58th Presidential Inauguration. Formerly serving as Marines, the two men deployed together in 2010 on several combat missions in Afghanistan. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by 2nd Lt. Susan Penning/Released)

Staff Sgt. David Nichols (right), 193rd Special Operations Security Forces Squadron, and Sgt. Jeff Kopp (left), D.C. Metropolitan Police K-9 Corps, reunite on a D.C. street  Jan. 20, 2017, while supporting security missions during the 58th Presidential Inauguration. Formerly serving as Marines, the two men deployed together in 2010 on several combat missions in Afghanistan. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by 2nd Lt. Susan Penning/Released)

Staff Sgt. David Nichols (right), 193rd Special Operations Security Forces Squadron, and Sgt. Jeff Kopp (left), D.C. Metropolitan Police K-9 Corps, reunite on a D.C. street Jan. 20, 2017, while supporting security missions during the 58th Presidential Inauguration. Formerly serving as Marines, the two men deployed together in 2010 on several combat missions in Afghanistan. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by 2nd Lt. Susan Penning/Released)

Pennsylvania Air National Guardsmen man a traffic control point in Washington, D.C., Jan. 20, 2017, while protesters are detained by police after hurling rocks, metal debris and a hammer toward law enforcement officials. More than 1,000 PANG Soldiers and Airmen headed to D.C. to support a safe, secure inauguration. They joined more than 7,000 Guardsmen from 44 states. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by 2nd Lt. Susan Penning/Released)

Pennsylvania Air National Guardsmen man a traffic control point in Washington, D.C., Jan. 20, 2017, while protesters are detained by police after hurling rocks, metal debris and a hammer toward law enforcement officials. More than 1,000 PANG Soldiers and Airmen headed to D.C. to support a safe, secure inauguration. They joined more than 7,000 Guardsmen from 44 states. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by 2nd Lt. Susan Penning/Released)

Pennsylvania Air National Guardsmen man a traffic control point in Washington, D.C., Jan. 20, 2017, while protesters are detained by police after hurling rocks, metal debris and a hammer toward law enforcement officials. More than 1,000 PANG Soldiers and Airmen headed to D.C. to support a safe, secure inauguration. They joined more than 7,000 Guardsmen from 44 states. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by 2nd Lt. Susan Penning/Released)

Pennsylvania Air National Guardsmen man a traffic control point in Washington, D.C., Jan. 20, 2017, while protesters are detained by police after hurling rocks, metal debris and a hammer toward law enforcement officials. More than 1,000 PANG Soldiers and Airmen headed to D.C. to support a safe, secure inauguration. They joined more than 7,000 Guardsmen from 44 states. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by 2nd Lt. Susan Penning/Released)

Washington, D.C. -- I've heard that Marines share a special bond, rivaling that of any other branch of the service. Last week, I witnessed the depth of it first-hand. 

It was the seventh anniversary of their 2010 mission in Afghanistan. Staff Sgt. David Nichols, now a Pennsylvania Air National Guardsman with the 193rd Special Operations Security Forces Squadron, and Sgt. Jeff Kopp, now serving in the D.C. Metropolitan Police K-9 Corps, were assigned to the streets of Washington, D.C. Their new mission: to support a safe and secure 58th Presidential Inauguration.

Their lives had taken different roads after their service together as Marines. But on a D.C. street Jan. 20, 2017, those paths would, once again, intersect. Although many years - and many miles - had separated them, their embrace was evidence of a deep, unmistakable connection, one that could only be forged on the battlefield. It was a joyful reunion, yet there was a look of sadness in their eyes, as the meeting served as a painful reminder of comrades who never made it home. 

They shared small talk and stories. Then, within minutes, violent protesters converged on the street where they stood. They immediately switched into mission mode and went back to work.

I could tell their combat training and experience had prepared them for situations like this ... and much worse.

These protesters, intent on inciting fear and confusion, lit Roman candle fireworks and hurled rocks, metal debris - even a hammer - in the direction of law enforcement.

"We have to stay together," Nichols warned fellow PA National Guardsmen. "It's not good to split up. It weakens the unit." He continued to guide troops, including myself, through the swiftly escalating situation, helping ensure our safety. 

Meanwhile, Kopp stopped protesters trying to squeeze through concrete abutments into unauthorized areas. "Stay back! Get back!" he shouted through a fog of pepper spray aimed by law enforcement at the unruly crowd.

Almost immediately, more officials clad in head-to-toe riot gear bore down on the protesters. The violence quelled and peace was temporarily restored.

The incident on that street in D.C. likely paled in comparison to what Nichols and Kopp experienced in Afghanistan. They were overseas at a time in the war when Marines, working to squash the insurgency, suffered high numbers of casualties.

These two men likely didn't recognize the importance of their involvement in the inauguration at that moment. Yet I know I felt safer with them there, helping to protect us and the president, as well as freedom, safety and democracy for all Americans.

Call it fate, destiny, the hand of God ... The reunion of these two combat-tested Marines who have now chosen to continue their service on our homeland's shore, turned out to be just what the president - and our country - needed on that chilly January day.