Lots of fruit salad — that’s military slang for a chest full of medals — at the White House Wednesday night. For the “A Nation’s Gratitude Dinner” marking the end of the Iraq War, President Obama and the first lady invited veterans and other guests representing the million-plus troops who served in the war and their families.
Who scored one of the 200 invites? A group of senior enlisted reps at the Pentagon hand-picked the vets; most are active-duty troops representing all the military branches and every state and U.S. territory. “This is the troops selecting the troops, which ensured there would be absolutely no politics involved,” said Doug Wilson, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs.
Guests ranged from Staff Sgt. Eric Alva, the Marine who stepped on a landmine the first day of the war, to Master Sgt. Shane Lacaillade and his wife, Christine, an Air Force couple celebrating their 20th (or fifth, depending on your count) wedding anniversary on Leap Day. Kim Felts, whose husband died five years ago in Baghdad, and two of her children were invited to sit at the first lady’s table. They were honored by Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Joe and Jill Biden, who brought their Iraq-vet son, Beau.
The dinner — deliberately low-key because of troops still fighting in Afghanistan — was designed to spotlight the returning troops and help with jobs and educational opportunities.