According to Donald J. Trump, being a great president means showing off America’s military might.
He told the Washington Post that the military “may come marching down Pennsylvania Avenue,” in an interview last Wednesday. “That military may be flying over New York City and Washington, D.C., for parades. I mean, we’re going to be showing our military.”
The incoming president spoke using vague terms to describe his vision of a military parade, but suggested it could happen at some future date. According to sources close to inaugural preparations however, Trump actually tried to have an unusual display of intimidating military equipment to mark his first day as the nation’s new commander-in-chief.
During the preparation work for the transfer-of-power on Friday, a source reported that a member of Trump’s team had the idea to include tanks and missile launchers in the president’s inaugural parade.
The source stated, ““They were legit thinking Red Square/North Korea-style parade.” This is a reference to the massive military parades seen Pyongyang, North Korea and Moscow, Russia. This is usually interpreted as an aggressive display of strength.
Though the military traditionally works very closely with the presidential inauguration committee, the source said the request was immediately denied. They were worried about how it would appear if missile launchers and tanks were seen rolling down civilian streets. There was also a more practical concern, as many tanks weigh over 100,000 pounds, which city roads are not built to handle.
“I could absolutely see structural support being a reason not to use tanks,” a Department of Defense official said. “D.C. is built on a swamp to begin with.”
Valerie Henderson, Defense Department spokeswoman, declined to comment on the alleged request for missile launchers and tanks, instead referring any questions to Trump’s transition team. Boris Epshteyn, a Trump advisor, said the inaugural committee was working closely with the military “to render appropriate honors” for the incoming-president’s swearing-in ceremony.
The military didn’t reject all of the president-elect’s ideas, however. At Trump’s request, there will be five military flyovers, representing each branch of the armed services, said Pentagon spokesman Major Jamie Davis, in an interview.
Military flyovers are not usually part of a president’s inauguration. Outgoing President Obama didn’t use any military aircraft at his inaugurations, and neither did his predecessor, President George W. Bush, although there was a military flyover for the 2001 opening ceremony, two days before the inauguration. President Ronald Reagan actually wanted a flyover for his inauguration back in 1985, but it never went through. Before Trump, the last president to use military flyovers as part of the inauguration festivities was President Harry Truman in 1949.
Stephen Kerrigan, who has held a top position in both of President Obama’s inaugural committees, was “shocked” when he heard that the president-elect wanted a military flyover.
“It seems unnecessary and the optics don’t seem appropriate…it’s very Red Square,” he said.
The airspace over Washington D.C. is quite restricted. Since the September 11th terrorist attacks, planes flying over the city make people very uncomfortable, Kerrigan stated.
“If there are fighter jets flying over Washington, people are going to assume something bad is happening.”
Thankfully the flyovers will not be adding cost to the inauguration, Davis said. Friday’s festivities will serve as a training exercise for the pilots, who have a monthly quota of hours in the air to maintain their proficiency.
Traditionally the military does play a big role in presidential inaugurations, though not by displays of heavy weaponry. The armed services usually contributes more practically, with color guards, musical units, honor cordons, and salute batteries. Over eight-hundred service members are part of the inauguration’s logistics and coordination, while five thousand will participate in Friday’s ceremonies, the Joint Task Force North Capital Region said back in September.