WASHINGTON — White House officials walked back reports of a massive military parade later this year, saying only that President Donald Trump has had conversations with Pentagon leaders about the possibility of such an event.
But the possibilities are as tall as the turret atop a Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle and as wide as a B-52 bomber (unless they pick a narrower set of streets for the event.)
On Wednesday, hours after the Washington Post broke news of Trump’s request to the Defense Department for a parade showcasing the military and its might, White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said Defense Department that nothing about the possible event has been finalized.
“This is in the early discussion phases,” she said. “It’s something that the president is looking at so not just he can but the entire country can come together to show support and honor our military.”
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said the impetus for the event is “the president’s affection and respect for the military.” Defense officials are compiling options for the event, including locations and participants.
But decisions on specifics — and costs — have not yet been made. Getting the Marine Drum and Bugle Corps to perform likely won’t add much to the Pentagon budget. But loading a littoral combat ship on the back of a few pickups to roll down Capitol Hill might.
This isn’t the first time that Trump has looked into the idea of a massive military showcase on the streets of the nation’s capital. Before Trump’s inauguration, the Huffington Post reported that his transition team requested a list of “military vehicles” to be included in the Inaugural Parade.
That didn’t happen, but the parade did include representatives from each of the five military services, and the 1st Cavalry Division Horse Cavalry Detachment out of Fort Hood, Texas.
In 1991, following the military campaign in Iraq, a massive patriotic parade through the streets of Washington, D.C. featured much more horsepower. Instead, the route was filled with about 9,000 troops, Abrams tanks, Bradley Fighting vehicles, a flyover from a quartet of stealth fighters and even Patriot missiles, one of the signature pieces of military equipment from the fight.
Local reports at the time said the heavy machinery left scars in the city streets, and crews had to disassemble street lights along the parade route to fit the military vehicles through.
But it also drew large crowds of interested citizens — close to 1 million by some estimates.
Trump was also publicly enamoured with the French Bastille Day celebration last summer. That featured a long procession of tanks, a helicopter team flyover, and thousands of French and foreign allied troops.
“The marching orders were: I want a parade like the one in France,” an anonymous military official told The Post about the idea.
According to the country’s respective military inventories, America has roughly 17 times as many tanks as France and nearly 165 times as many military helicopters. The U.S. defense budget is also about 14 times larger than France’s.
Also, the F-35 made its aerial demonstration debut at the 2017 Paris Air Show. If officials are looking to match the French government’s pageantry, the aircraft could give a similar display over the White House, not far from the lawmakers on Capitol Hill who often hold it up as prime example of government waste and inefficiency.
Any such event is still months away, but officials from the 3d U.S. Infantry Regiment (“The Old Guard”) put out a statement Wednesday saying they are “ready to execute now” if the president wants a parade. The unit is the official ceremonial escort for the president, and rehearses plans annually for national events like inaugurations or the death of a former U.S. president.
“The plan would bring together over 2,700 service members from across DoD, from as far away as Colorado, in less than 96 hours,” said Maj. Rob Lodewick, public affairs officer for the regiment. “If the decision is made, and when the call comes, the Old Guard is ready.”
But for now, the White House still has to convince lawmakers the plans are designed to advocate for forgotten troops and their families, and not just an ostentatious show of might. A group of four Senate Democrats sent a letter to the Pentagon late Wednesday to explain the possible adverse readiness impacts and costs of a military parade in the capital.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said Wednesday that he was “not-looking for a Russian-style hardware display” if a parade happens.
“That would be cheesy and project weakness,” he said. “What I want to do is have a parade where [troops] can march in front of the commander-in-chief, the American people, and we can all say thank you. A parade to honor service and sacrifice should include family members. Kids should be able to walk in this parade.”
Graham’s colleague on the Senate Armed Services Committee — Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla. — was more excited by the idea.
“To me, this is more awareness that this country needs,” said Inhofe, who served in the Army in the 1950s. He even added that “I’ll be out marching.”
He also downplayed the criticism of the idea. “I’m sure they’re not going to be marching Nazi-style.”
Reporters Tara Copp and Joe Gould contributed to this story.
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.