Barbershop: Staging A U.S. Military Parade
MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
And there's one more story from the White House we want to focus on now. Earlier in the week, we learned that the president has asked the Pentagon to look into staging a military parade. It seems intended as a celebration of the military and a demonstration of military might. So we thought, who better to ask about this than the people who served in uniform and whose service is being honored? And where better to talk about this than in the Barbershop, because that's where we talk to interesting folks about what's in the news and what's on their mind? So joining us today is Jas Boothe. She served for 16 years in the Army and the Army Reserves. She served in Kosovo, among other assignments. As she prepared to deploy for Operation Iraqi Freedom, though, she was diagnosed with cancer. She was eventually discharged. And she now runs Final Salute Inc. That's an organization that helps homeless women veterans, as she once was. She's also the mother of a son serving in the Air Force and is the wife of a former Marine. Major, thank you so much for speaking with us.
JAS BOOTHE: Thank you.
MARTIN: Also joining us, Joe Plenzler. He is a 20-year combat veteran of the Marine Corps who served in Iraq and Afghanistan. He's the director of media relations for the American Legion, a veterans' organization. We want to make it clear here, as with all of our guests, that they're speaking for themselves. Lieutenant Colonel Plenzler, thank you so much for joining us.
JOE PLENZLER: Thanks so much.
MARTIN: And last, but certainly not least, we are joined by Sherman Gillums Jr. He is retired from the U.S. Marines. He's chief strategy officer of American Veterans, which we all know as AMVETS. Chief Warrant Officer Gillums, thank you so much for joining us.
SHERMAN GILLUMS JR: Thank you, Michel.
MARTIN: They're all here in our Washington, D.C., studio. So it's been reported that the president may have been inspired by watching the Bastille Day celebrations during his visit last year to Paris. This is White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders talking about it.
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SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS: Look. As I said, we haven't made a final decision. The president's simply exploring different ways that he can highlight and show the pride that we have in the military, the people that have served and sacrificed to allow us all of the freedoms that we have.
MARTIN: So a military parade is certainly not unheard of in this country, but the last one like this that most of us can remember was at the end of the first Gulf War, some 30 years ago. I was 12 when I was - no, I wasn't. I was there. I was there. But I - so I wanted to hear everybody's take on this. And, Sherman, do you want to start?
GILLUMS JR.: Sure. A parade, the very idea of a parade is a good idea, I believe. I think that there's a recruitment problem in the U.S. And one of the first things I thought about when I heard about this notion that we have the military in this big parade, I thought about a few things. No. 1, this era of veterans that served in Iraq and Afghanistan has not had their moment. You know, we've seen the end of Operation Enduring Freedom, Operation Iraqi Freedom, Operation New Dawn, but there's been no closure. And I - and thinking that, the Vietnam veterans hadn't had their parade. So I thought for a lot of reasons we could think real hard about making this less about the president and divining his motivations and really looking at what good could come out of this.
MARTIN: Jas, Major Boothe, what do you think about it?
BOOTHE: I think that we already have, you know, that show of support through the parades that we have on Memorial Day, the parades that we have during Veterans Day. And I think that, you know, especially at a $22 million estimated price tag, I think that's too hefty. And that money could be better spent in other areas to truly have a direct influence on those veterans of those wars.
MARTIN: Well, give an example, though, from the kind of work that you do with homeless women veterans. I mean, you have a very compelling experience yourself.
BOOTHE: Yeah. You know, I found myself homeless when I was getting ready to deploy to Iraq. So I didn't quite make it. But through my - that experience, I found out about the lack of supportive housing services specifically for women veterans with and without children. And so I think that there are other special emphasis issues that, again, we can focus on such as homelessness, health care, and other - a myriad of issues that we have once we leave the service.
MARTIN: Joe, what about you, lieutenant colonel, what do you think?
PLENZLER: Yeah, I have concerns mostly around the intent and the impact of the event, plus the cost. I agree with Jas on that. And, you know, our national military culture, we have parades where we roll out the active duty when it's a victory parade. And the war in Afghanistan is still going on. And the war in Iraq and Syria is still going on. So, I mean, we're nowhere near the end of those two conflicts. And it may go on for some years now.
And the other thing too is when you think about like to honor the troops, this issue has trended pretty poorly amongst the rank-and-file. I mean, a snap poll on Military Times did - 89 percent were against it. And if you just go through the social media and look at the comments of active-duty troops, you know, the vast proponents that I've seen - and maybe it's just the circles I travel in - but they were just like, hey, we'd rather do something else rather than give up a four-day weekend and stand in the hot sun in D.C., you know, time away from our families when we could be spending it with them. So, you know...
MARTIN: You know, I have to be honest. I noticed that, too. And, again, I don't know whether it's the social media effect. But I had been struck by how many veterans who've spoken about this have been not just against it but really vehemently against it. For example, one of the former Navy SEALs who was part of the operation...
PLENZLER: To kill Bin Laden, yeah.
MARTIN: ...That took out Osama bin Laden just was - said he was just disgusted by the whole thing. Sherman, can I ask you about that? I mean, are you hearing that too? Is your point of view on this in the minority, as it were?
GILLUMS JR.: Well, two points. No. 1, I haven't been asked how I feel. The circles I run in haven't been asked.
MARTIN: I have. I'm asking you now, yeah.
GILLUMS JR.: Well, I mean, by polls, right? So you can - if you torture numbers enough, statistics enough, you can make them scream anything.
GILLUMS JR.: So the other thing is the budget. The DOD spends $856 million on recruiting and advertising, right? So we're not talking about taking money from the VA or taking money from other programs in DOD. They spend a lot of money. The question is, is it money well spent? And so when I hear talk of the budget, we're talking, I think, a $20 million price tag tag with a budget of 856 million. So it doesn't work like that. You don't take money from veterans and hospitals and all those things. So I think that argument kind of falls flat for me.
MARTIN: OK. What about the - what do you make of - you're saying you're not convinced that - and it's true, you know, social media is what it is. I don't purport to have it be a, you know - scientific. But I was sort of struck by some of the vehemence of it. But what about you - Joe, what do you think about - what do you think by what Sherman says, that this argument that maybe it's a recruiting tool, maybe it is something appropriate? It's like a - it's a party. It's a birthday party. It's something that says, I see you. I respect you. I appreciate you.
PLENZLER: Sure, his argument about where the money comes from is valid. But when you take a look at the time and the impact on the active-duty forces, I mean, what people are talking about is rolling out massive amounts of troops and massive amounts of military hardware. And, you know, the optics of that is just one thing. We can talk about in a second. But, the impact - you know, this is taking active-duty troops who are training for combat away from those duties to march in a parade in D.C.
And, you know, I mean, when you look at the size and scale of these things, - right? - it takes a long time to prepare to do that. I mean, the one that comes to mind is the Russia Victory Day parade, and they start planning and practicing a month out to do that every year in Moscow.
And, you know, when you start taking a look at the optics of it, you know, if it's massive amounts of military hardware, you know, going down Pennsylvania Avenue or Constitution Avenue, who else does that - China, North Korea, Iran, you know, Russia? I mean, is that what we want to emulate? I'm not so sure, you know, if that's the intent. You know, we haven't seen the plans yet, and it may not be that. But if we're talking about like, you know, MLRS launchers and artillery tubes and, you know, rolling down the street...
MARTIN: And what about that, Jas? I mean, one of the things that was striking to me is that a number of the people talking about this, particularly some of the millennial era - millenniums, millennials, rather - who have been - who are very active on social media, and one of their arguments was that this kind of conjures up the image of authoritarian, you know, governments like, you know, North Korea. You know, obviously, North Korea, that these huge displays of might are kind of a signature - Venezuela, Russia. I'm going to ask you the same thing - what Sherman's point is. What if - what about something that says, I respect and appreciate you?
BOOTHE: Well, I personally think if - I'll reference Sherman's point - that they have that $800-something million that's already in defense spending and you need an additional 22, to, you know, rally people to support the military, I think you need to probably look at, you know, how that 800 and something million is already being spent if you need a parade. My oldest son, you know, was not born during Desert Storm. And - I'm sorry he was, but he doesn't remember Desert Storm because he was a little bitty baby. But because both of his parents served, that was his sole decision for wanting to serve because it was part of his family. It wasn't the things that he saw in the media. It wasn't anybody rolling down the street. He came from a family of service. So I don't really think people are going to look at a parade and just say, oh, now I want to put on a uniform.
MARTIN: Is there something that anyone could do to persuade you?
BOOTHE: To do a parade?
MARTIN: Yeah, to participate. If they invited you to come, would you go?
BOOTHE: I mean, of course I would go because, again, the - those are my brothers and sisters that you are supporting and recognizing. So I wouldn't be against it if it's already happening, going to happen. And someone says, hey would you come? Of course, I'm there, not for political reasons, I'm there because I'm honoring my brothers and sisters.
MARTIN: Sherman, is there anything that anybody could say to persuade you not to go?
GILLUMS JR.: Not to go to the parade...
GILLUMS JR.: ...if it happens? Probably not. I think about the impact that these types of events have on young people, especially. You know, you had the Philadelphia Eagles just hold a massive parade in Philadelphia. You had 700,000 people. Somewhere there's a kid sitting there saying, I'm going to play football one day. Or if you're looking at recruitment - the recruiting activities during a football game, you know, you might do more if you get - you know, you have that parade.
MARTIN: OK. Well, as we get closer, we'll call you back and see how you all feel then. That's Sherman Gillums Jr., Marine veteran, chief strategy officer for American Veterans, AMVETS. Joe Plenzler, another Marine veteran, director of media for The American Legion. Jas Boothe, former veteran, founder of Final Salute. We want to emphasize they're all speaking for themselves. But thank you all so much for coming. And, if I may - and I understand it's controversial - thank you for your service.
GILLUMS JR.: Thank you.
BOOTHE: Thank you.
PLENZLER: Thanks for having us. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.