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DOD backs parade for returning vets, but not until all troops are home

By LEO SHANE III | STARS AND STRIPES Published: February 7, 2012

WASHINGTON — The Pentagon fully supports the idea of a parade for returning war veterans down the Canyon of Heroes in New York City.

Just not right now.

Instead, administration officials on Monday announced plans for a lavish gala at the White House later this month to honor “the achievements and enormous sacrifices of the brave Americans who served in the Iraq War.”

Doug Wilson, Pentagon public affairs chief, said that military leaders support the idea of eventually holding a nationwide celebration for troops and their families.

“We’re looking forward to a national parade for the troops at an appropriate time, when combat troops are off the battlefield in Afghanistan,” he said.

Defense leaders have hinted in the past that such an event could pose security risks to New York and troops overseas, but backed away from those statements this week.

Col. Dave Lapan, spokesman for the Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey, said that a ticker-tape parade “wouldn’t harm our efforts in Afghanistan, but we feel it would be inappropriate at this time given ongoing deployments and combat operations there.”

Wilson said the White House dinner — featuring troops from every service, every state and every rank — will be a unique opportunity to draw attention to Iraq veterans and thank them for their work.

That sentiment has irritated leaders at the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, which has been pushing for a bigger, bolder recognition to mark the end of the controversial nine-year-war. They say a White House dinner will only include a few dozen returning heroes, and won’t really help the public engage with veterans.

“The country wants to come out and thank these veterans,” said Paul Rieckhoff, executive director of IAVA. “We’ve already seen one celebration in St. Louis, and we’re hearing from other communities who want to do more. Rather than have a scattering of parades here and there, we think it should be a coordinated effort.”

The St. Louis parade, organized on a small budget by a pair of friends over Facebook, featured fewer than 1,000 veterans but crowds of cheering civilians numbering in the tens of thousands.

One senior Pentagon official praised the event as the right size and scope for what military leaders feel comfortable with right now.

“More St. Louis-type events are fine,” the official said, “but we’d hope the national celebration would be held until all combat troops are off the battlefield.”

Other veterans groups have largely shied away from the issue, but Rieckhoff said civilian leaders and organizations are pushing him to keep fighting for a New York parade. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has said he won’t move ahead with one unless the Pentagon approves.

On Tuesday, the city held its latest ticker-tape parade down Broadway, this one for the Super Bowl champion New York Giants. IAVA officials were at the pre-game festivities last week, touting a new veterans employment initiative but also pushing for a Iraq War parade.

“It’s messed up that the Giants can get a parade, but the returning Iraq War veterans don’t,” Rieckhoff said.

shanel@stripes.osd.mil

Twitter: @LeoShane
 

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