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Pentagon to provide 1,700 troops, aircraft and other support to Independence Day festivities

The Pentagon will contribute 1,700 troops, aircraft for flyovers and other support as part of July 4th celebrations toned down from last year due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Defense Secretary Mark Esper has approved a Department of the Interior request for DOD support to the 2020 Salute to America, according to a Pentagon media release.

DoD will provide “aerial, musical and ceremonial support to this year’s celebration in Washington, D.C. This year’s support will also include a flyover of the Mount Rushmore National Memorial, as well an aerial salute to several cities that played roles in the American Revolution,” the release stated.

The highlight of this year’s celebration will be “our salute to the Great Cities of the American Revolution. The flyovers will begin in Boston and proceed to New York City, Philadelphia and Baltimore. From there they will join other Department of Defense and heritage aircraft in the Salute to America over our nation’s capital.”

The Pentagon estimated that about 1,700 service members will support the celebrations. The exact timing of the flyovers is still being worked and will be announced soon.

Officials said the cost of the flyovers, which Pentagon officials did not immediately provide, was justified as “a sunk cost for the Department of Defense, and these aircraft and crews would be using these hours for proficiency and training at other locations if they were not conducting these flyovers.”

Trump’s Fourth of July gala in the nation’s capital last year has come under fire because its price tag. The event cost taxpayers more than $13 million, twice as much as previous celebrations, government watchdogs reported Thursday. Trump’s desire to have Department of Defense military vehicles participate helped drive up the cost, as did the president’s attendance near the Lincoln Memorial.

Trump’s military-focused Independence Day event went beyond the traditional concert on the Capitol lawn featuring the National Symphony Orchestra and fireworks near the Washington Monument. Trump altered the lineup last year by adding his own speech from near the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, shifting the fireworks closer to that landmark and summoning an array of tanks and warplanes to entertain the crowds.

A White House spokesman declined to directly address the findings on costs. Responding to Democratic lawmakers’ charges that the president’s spending on the Fourth of July is extravagant and amounts to political activity on the taxpayer’s dime, spokesman Judd Deere said Trump’s celebration “is not about politics.”

“It’s about all Americans coming together to celebrate Independence Day, our great armed forces and their heroic sacrifices, which have preserved our freedoms for generations, and our amazing heritage,” Deere said.

The Interior Department called the 2019 event “an incredible celebration,” but also refused to comment on the costs accrued then or what’s expected for this year’s event.

The White House has said Trump plans to mark the holiday this year by attending a fireworks show July 3 at Mount Rushmore in the Black Hills of South Dakota and then celebrating in the nation’s capital on Independence Day.

Trump and first lady Melania Trump will host the event from the White House’s South Lawn and the Ellipse, with music, military demonstrations and flyovers. The president also is expected to deliver remarks.

The White House has said this year’s event will have a different look because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The Government Accountability Office estimated that holiday celebrations from 2016 to 2018 cost from $6 million to $7 million annually. Its estimate for 2019 did not include costs such as the military flyovers of the National Mall.

Three Democrats on the Senate Appropriations Committee had asked for the GAO investigation of how much the federal government spent on the 2019 festivities.

This story contains information from the Associated Press.

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