Thousands of people are expected to fill Cadet Memorial Field at the Coast Guard Academy Wednesday for the 137th Annual Commencement Ceremony.
During the ceremonies, 209 cadets will graduate and Vice President Mike Pence is set tapped to make the keynote speech.
All New London Police Department staff is working Wednesday. Officers use the same plans every year they run a large event at the Coast Guard Academy, according to Chief Peter Reichard. But this year there will be less mutual aid.
“We haven’t had the number of reports of protesters coming in as they were last year like we did when President Trump was in town,” Reichard said.
Police have been conducting their own intelligence online. There have been no permits for protest, according to Reichard. Signs on posts and masks are not allowed. Peaceful protests are.
City of New London staff has spent the last couple of days posting about 80 “no parking” signs on roads near the academy. Restrictions are in effect on River Ridge Road, Deshon Street, Nameaug Avenue, Oneco Avenue, Farnsworth Street, Winchester Road and Uncas Avenue beginning at 5 a.m. on May 23.
Riverside Park is also closed to the public. Crews from the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection said Bluff Point State Park will also be closed Wednesday.
Town of Groton Police are shutting down Tower Avenue, High Rock Road, and Poquonnock Road west of Trails Corner.
Officers are providing protection with the transport of Vice President Pence from the Groton-New London Airport and back.
City of Groton Police will assist with street closures and traffic while the Vice President is in transit. Waterford Police will provide a water patrol. State police will assist with the escort.
Agent Peter Quinn with the U.S. Secret Service said Interstate 95 will be closed to traffic when the vice president is on the road. While the closures do not have a set time, he said they will last approximately 10 minutes each.
The New London Police Department is constantly in contact with the Secret Service throughout the year but when there is a dignitary visit involved, the number of meetings amplify, according to Reichard.
“Whenever someone of that caliber comes to the base, we work with the White House staff or whoever their staff of choice is, and they will come through and make sure all the extra security they need is set in place. That can include anything from having dogs run across the base, to having them here as well, to utilizing our own staff and using our own procedures,” said LTJG Alexis Davis, a public affairs officer with the Coast Guard Academy.
The campus was bustling with last-minute preparations Tuesday from wiring the sound system to hanging an American flag to making sure final plans with White House Staff are set.
“Any time we have a graduation it involves a lot of planning and a lot of different organizations. We are working with White House staff and local police departments to ensure safety of everyone that’s going to be coming on board,” said PA3 Nicole Foguth, a public affairs specialist for the Coast Guard Academy.
Along with security, there will be cooling stations where guests can get water an escape from the sun.
“What college student could tell you that the Vice President is speaking at my graduation? That is awesome,” said Cadet Panashe Mutombo, of Bel Air, Maryland.
Mutombo’s graduating Wednesday and is the first person in his family to graduate from college. He has more than a dozen relatives in town for the ceremony, including some from South Africa.
“I can’t believe after four, five, years actually, that I’m finally able to live my dream come true of being an officer in the military,” Mutombo said. He said he’s always dreamed of helping people and exploring the world. The Coast Guard was able to help him live out that goal.
With 3,000 people expected to attend the graduation, there’s spillover to nearby businesses. Mutombo’s family planned ahead by renting a house more than a year out.
People did the same when it came to booking rooms at the Hilton Garden Inn in Groton, which sold out Tuesday night, according to Director of Sales & Marketing Jocelyn Hawley.
Restaurants, like Captain Scott’s Lobster Dock in New London have also seen an increased crowd.
“We’ve been busy with graduations both from the Coast Guard Academy, Connecticut College and Mitchell College,” said owner Susan Tierney. “So we’ve had a busy couple of weeks even with the (rainy) weather.”