WASHINGTON – Pentagon officials say they’re all for a „New York-style tickertape parade“ honoring combat troops who served in Iraq, but bowing to the military leadership’s wishes, agree that the best time to do so is after all combat troops have returned home from Afghanistan as well.
Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs Douglas B. Wilson told Lynn Neary of NPR’s „Talk of the Town“ program the Defense Department fully supports homecoming celebrations for Iraq War veterans.
St. Louis hosted a parade last month that drew an estimated 20,000 participants and 100,000 spectators. Some 15 more cities are considering similar parades.
„The event in St. Louis was terrific, and it was something that we applaud and we know that there will be more of,“ Wilson said.
Wilson said there’s always been interest in a national-level celebration to honor troops returned from Iraq. „The question was not whether to have a parade, but when to do so,“ he said.
Based on input from the military, Wilson said, the sentiment is that now is too soon, particularly because many Iraq War veterans now are deployed to Afghanistan. The consensus, he said, was that „that kind of event should wait and that it would be more appropriately held when combat troops were coming home.“
Meanwhile, plans are under way for an official White House dinner President Barack Obama will host later this month for Iraq veterans and their guests. The event, to be on the scale of an official state dinner honoring visiting heads of state, will express „the spirit, the dignity, the respect and the gratitude“ of the president and American people, Wilson said.
Invitees will be of „all ranks, from all services and from all states and territories,“ Wilson said, chosen by a selection committee of senior enlisted representatives from all five services and the National Guard and reserves.
They strove, he said, to ensure the participants will be „representative of the hundreds of thousands of men and women who fought on the battlefield in Iraq.“
As more regional-level parades and celebrations take place around the country, Wilson said, returning combat veterans deserve all the support they receive. That, he added, includes not just homecoming commemorations, but also support as veterans readjust to their communities and seek jobs.
„The question is when, where and how we can honor those who served in Iraq and are serving in Afghanistan,“ Wilson said. „And the answer to when is always, and where is everywhere, and how is all kinds of different ways.“
U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)