President Trump has announced his intention of conducting a grand parade to honor the Armed Forces of the United States. His inspiration comes from the Bastille Day Parade he attended in July 2017 in Paris. The French have been conducting this parade on the morning of July 14 every year since 1880. I will note here that the Germans marched the same route during their occupation of Paris during World War II. The parade passes down the Champs-Elysées from l’Arc de Triomphe to Place de la Concorde. At the end of the route, the formation marches in front of the President of France, his government, and foreign ambassadors. It is a French tradition.
But I am an American. I am a Veteran with 24 years of military service. The United States does not have a current tradition of an annual military parade on a national scale. We “parade” after significant historical events. For instance, after winning a war. The Grand Review of the Armies was held in Washington, D.C. on 23 and 24 May 1865 to the cheers of those viewing along the route.
After World War I, General Pershing marched the American Expeditionary Force down 5th Avenue in New York. In 1946, the 82nd Airborne Division in “Operation Homecoming” marched, 13,000 strong, with their equipment through the streets of New York representing the combat forces of World War II.
The National Victory Celebration in Washington, DC following the Gulf War in 1991 had representatives from the Active and Reserve Components (8,000 military personnel) and the equipment that won that conflict. The price tag for that parade was approximately $8 million. Of that, $3 million was paid for by the taxpayers. The rest came from private donors.
Military commands are regular participants in patriotic parades and presidential inaugurations. Military Bands and small units march in ceremonies across the country on the 4th of July, Memorial Day and Veteran’s Day. There are ceremonial units in the Washington D.C. that have the specific mission to represent the Armed Forces at official state occasions. You also see the Old Guard maintaining vigil at Arlington National Cemetery. We march and represent all the time.
Why does President Trump insist on having a full-blown U.S. Military Parade? And what would it cost? I don’t know the answer to the first question. I will tackle the second.
Right now, the Secretary of Defense is preparing options for President Trump. Secretary Mattis will go in with some scenarios to conduct an event ranging from a large-scale parade on par with the National Victory Celebration in 1991 down to small-scale events.
An event with the scope of the 1991 parade would include marching units, bands, vehicles, tanks, self-propelled artillery, and missiles. Expect 8,000 uniformed personnel to participate. There will be flyovers by fixed winged and rotary aircraft along the route, most likely moving down Pennsylvania Avenue. Accelerating the cost from 1991, this parade would probably cost over $40 million.
Stepping down from the mother of all parades, a medium sized event with 5,000 troops, their equipment, and aircraft, just less of it, would run in the price range of $20 Million. This parade would be comparable to that of a Presidential inauguration event.
An event with only 1,500 to 2,000 service members and limited amounts of equipment could be sized to a parade similar to a large scale 4th of July event and carry a price tag of around $10 million to $15 million.
The logical time to run a parade, in whatever form it would take, would either be on the 4th of July or on Veteran’s Day, 11 November 2018. Veteran’s Day this year will mark the 100th anniversary of Armistice that ended World War I. That may be a reason to honor the service of the men and women of this country that helped, in conjunction with our allies, bring a close to that conflict. I think a small, relevant event would be appropriate to mark that occasion.
A Military Times poll posted on their website (as of 2/10/18 at 5 p.m.), showed that an 89% majority favored not having a parade at all. I live near and work in Norfolk, Virginia. Norfolk is not only a Navy town, but it also sits in the middle of one of the most significant concentrations of military bases in the country. The buzz I am hearing is that a tiny group of people see the idea of a National Military Parade as a good idea. Most of the people (a high percentage are veterans) I have spoken with don’t think the country needs this kind of event. Why? We don’t rely on parades to showcase our military might. We don’t need to march like the Russians in Red Square or the North Koreans in front of their “great leader” (don’t get me started). I really don’t like the optics of that with President Trump reviewing the troops. We can demonstrate our military acumen, when needed, with great effect. I think we need to respect the might of the armed forces of the United States of America, but I also believe we should appreciate the humility of the men and women in the uniform of this country and not put them in the bullseye of an unnecessary political storm.
If I may be so bold as to offer a fourth option to those outlined before, do something small and respectful on the 100th Anniversary of the end of World War I. Let’s just not make it a date every year. Mr. President, I am sure you can book a room and watch the parade in Paris on July 14, 2018. I hear that it is a beloved national tradition there.