With War On, Ranks Are Thin for Veterans Day Parades

From Associated Press

Even as thousands of U.S. troops are stationed in war zones abroad, plans for Veterans Day parades across the country are being scaled back or scrapped.

The problem: There aren't enough troops, tanks and Humvees to wow the patriotic crowds.

"With the large number of active and reserve units called up, a lot of them that would normally be available are on duty," said Bill Smith, a spokesman for the Veterans of Foreign Wars in Washington.

Some cities are depending on Boy Scouts and other nonmilitary marchers to fill the gaps. In California, several small towns have joined the bigger San Jose parade, said Lee Harris, a spokesman for the American Legion in Indianapolis.

The U.S. military has 131,600 troops deployed in Iraq, in addition to troops serving in Afghanistan. War equipment usually available from state armories and military bases has been shipped out with the troops.

Deployments aren't the only problem. While a dwindling number of retired veterans are available, younger veterans often have to work on Veterans Day, Harris said.

"We've really hit bottom as far as returning veterans are concerned," said Russ Geyer, an Army veteran who heads the parade committee in Miami Lakes, Fla.

Only a handful of troops and a color guard from the U.S. Southern Command will be among the 750 people marching Sunday in the northwest Miami suburb's parade, which has had drill units and military marching bands in the past.

Deb Skidmore, a spokeswoman for the Army at Fort Riley, Kan., said the base turned down invitations from about a dozen towns for its troops to participate in parades.

"We have two-thirds of our post deployed," she said. "We just can't meet all of these requests when we don't have the soldiers to do it."

About a third of the Florida Guard's 12,000 members are deployed, leaving the Guard to fulfill about half of the 40 to 45 requests for Veterans Day appearances.

"In the past, when maybe we would have a marching unit, now they're getting a color guard," said spokesman Jon Myatt.

And in Columbus, Ohio, parade chairman John Dreska described military participation as "a wild card."

But not every city is having troubles.

A big crowd is expected in Jacksonville, Fla., where there are two Navy bases and a large number of retired military personnel, said a spokeswoman for Mayor John Peyton.

And in Indianapolis, about 600 members of the Indiana National Guard who just returned from Iraq are leading the parade Tuesday, Harris said.

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