by Nedra Pickler, Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP)—Spouses of those serving in the armed forces, military and civilian colleges, gay musicians, service dogs trainers and a drill team from President Barack Obama’s hometown are among the diverse groups that were invited Tuesday to participate in next month’s inaugural parade down Pennsylvania Avenue.
The Presidential Inaugural Committee has started sending out invitations to groups nationwide to march behind Obama from his swearing in at the Capitol to the White House on Jan. 21.
The first wave selected includes the marching band from Miami University of Ohio, the alma matter of GOP vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan where first lady Michelle Obama spoke during the final weekend of the campaign. Also selected was the Virginia Military Institute, a traditional performer in inaugural parades.
Others include Military Spouses of Michigan, the Lesbian and Gay Band Association of St. Louis, Chicago’s South Shore Drill Team and marching bands from Little Rock Central High School and Washington’s Ballou Senior High School.
“The talented groups chosen to participate in the inaugural parade reflect the spirit, values, and diversity of our great nation,” Obama said in a statement.
The application process was run by the military, beginning in October before the election and continuing through the end of last month. The Joint Task Force—National Capital Region is charged with supporting inaugural ceremonies and reviewed about 3,000 online applications to make sure they met minimum requirements before presenting about 300 applicants to the Presidential Inaugural Committee for final selection.
The process included members of military bands reviewing video and audio files of performances to judge the skill of marching bands, musical acts and drill teams. Other applicants included floats, silent marching groups, dancers and other performers.
“As you can imagine, everybody wants to participate,” Maj. Gen. Michael Linnington told reporters at a briefing Wednesday.
More than 20 groups were invited Tuesday, with the committee still reviewing applications and planning to continue to invite others on a rolling basis to represent all 50 states.
Among those chosen in the first wave was Canine Companions for Independence, a Virginia-based nonprofit that provides free assistance dogs to people with disabilities. “We couldn’t be more excited,” said Susan Lee Vick, the group’s national director of development. She said their marching team may include puppies in training and graduate teams of veterans and their animals, because supporting wounded warriors is a major focus. “We feel that marching in the parade gives us a chance to really express our commitment and that value.”
Committee officials say they don’t have a specific target size for the parade, but about 130 groups with close to 15,000 participants were selected in 2009. This time organizers say the parade is expected to be smaller, keeping with plans to downsize the overall size of the event from his historic first inauguration, when a record 1.8 million people packed the National Mall.
Inaugural parades are a time-honored tradition following the president’s swearing in, beginning with the local militias that accompanied George Washington from his Virginia home to New York, where his inauguration was held in 1789. Thomas Jefferson charted the modern day route in 1805 when he rode a horse to the White House after being sworn in for his second term, followed by a spontaneous procession of local workers and a Marine Band. President Dwight Eisenhower had the longest parade in 1953, lasting about five hours, compared with about two hours for more recent events. President Jimmy Carter walked along Pennsylvania Avenue during his parade, which has since become traditional practice for the presidents as they begin their new terms.
The parade shuts down one of Washington’s main thoroughfares, and involves the temporary removal of all street lights along the Pennsylvania Ave. route.
Costs of the parade are covered by the Presidential Inaugural Committee’s fundraising. Participants must pay their own travel costs to attend, but the committee said it is trying to help them find affordable accommodations at a time when many Washington hotels are booked or charge inflated rates.
Obama begins his second term at noon on Sunday, Jan. 20, and is planning a private swearing in at the White House with limited press coverage. His public inauguration will be on the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, Monday, Jan. 21, since the ceremony is not traditionally held on Sundays.
Obama is kicking off the inaugural weekend by asking Americans to participate in a National Day of Service on Saturday, Jan. 19. He plans to end the festivities with a special prayer service at the Washington National Cathedral on Tuesday, Jan. 22.
“The beginning of President Obama’s second term will be marked by the acknowledgement and celebration of the role of people of faith in American life,” Presidential Inaugural Committee spokeswoman Addie Whisenant said in a statement Tuesday announcing the prayer service. “President Obama’s own faith has played an integral role in his life, his commitment to service and his presidency, and this important tradition will celebrate the values and diversity that make us strong.”
The Presidential Inaugural Committee has yet to announce details of some other inaugural events, including the number of official balls the president plans to attend. Organizers have said there will be fewer parties than the 10 Obama had four years ago and that they will all be held at the Washington Convention Center.