Taxpayers will spend about $3 million on Washington's Desert Storm victory parade, in addition to the $5 million in private money being raised for the June 8 celebration, Defense Department officials said yesterday.
The rising cost of the parade may cause the Pentagon to scale back the number of soldiers and warplanes in the nationally televised parade. It is also stirring further complaints among peace activists who oppose the celebration.
"We just can't provide a blank check," said Deputy Assistant Defense Secretary Dan Kalinger. "We want to work with the parade sponsors to provide a wonderful, historic parade, but we have to take the total cost into account and keep it responsible."
Most of the public money will be spent flying the troops here from military bases around the country and Europe and housing them in college dormitories, military barracks and hotels. Tanks, missiles, a 50-bed military hospital and other pieces of heavy equipment used in the war also are being shipped by rail and truck.
Top Defense Department officials, with President Bush's approval, originally promised to deliver 10,000 soldiers, sailors and airmen who fought in the Persian Gulf. Then, when the considerable expense became apparent, they began backing down, saying they would come "as close to 10,000 as possible."
Yesterday, organizers of the event, irked at the continuing discussion of scaling down their parade, again asked the Pentagon to honor that pledge.
"Why they would want to deprive 1,000 young soldiers the chance to march in front of the president on this historic day to try to save $500,000 out of a budget of $300 billion is beyond my imagination," said Harry N. Walters, president of the Desert Storm Homecoming Foundation, which is running the parade. "It's an absurdity."
Some Pentagon officials say it's in the Defense Department's best interest to fully support the daylong celebration, which includes a gigantic display of military hardware on the Mall and the parading of Patriot missiles, Abrams tanks and Bradley fighting vehicles down Constitution Avenue NW.
"It's a great advertisement for recruiting," said Army Maj. Gen. William A. Roosma, co-executive director of the celebration. "It gives the services a chance to show off."
But the resistance within the Pentagon to Washington's victory celebration is coming from others who are arguing privately that it's irresponsible to spend $3 million from the Defense Department budget on a big party. Financial times are so tough that military bases are closing and the size of the Army shrinking, they say.
The Defense Department's $3 million tab may go higher. It does not include the cost of the unprecedented flyover of as many as 100 warplanes in the restricted air space above the Mall.
To fly an F-15 jet for one hour costs more than $4,000, according to 1989 Defense Department figures, and it costs $6,000 an hour to fly some of the bombers that will be used.
To cut costs, Air Force and Army officials say the trips to Washington will be counted as training flights for the aircraft crews.
Although parade organizers say excitement is building for the parade -- they have received $3.5 million in donations so far -- not everyone is looking forward to the biggest military parade in Washington since World War II.
This week, three groups applied for National Park Service permits to hold protest demonstrations near the parade route on June 8. Their leaders say America should not glorify tanks and other weapons that killed tens of thousands of Iraqis.
"People should be ashamed that we settled our differences through bloodshed instead of diplomacy," said David R. Willcox, of Prince George's County, who is leading a protest group called Desert Flower Network. "There is nothing to be proud of. We took a big gun and blew Iraq to hell."
"It's outrageous that taxpayers' dollars are going to be used to bring in military hardware for what is essentially a celebration of death," said Lisa Fithian, coordinator of the Washington Peace Center.
Some of the money for the celebration is coming from major defense contractors. Raytheon Co. and Textron Inc. are among the big contributors to the military salute. Raytheon donated $100,000. The amount of Textron's pledge will be announced this week, parade sponsors said.
Delta, Northwest and American airlines will provide free air transportation to Washington for family members of the 373 U.S. troops killed in the Persian Gulf conflict. Marriott hotels have agreed to house them at no cost.
Among the biggest expenses for the June 8 celebration is a bill from the National Park Service. The federal agency is charging the parade sponsors $500,000 to $700,000 for police, cleanup and fencing costs.
"There's even a charge in there for sod replacement" on the Mall, said parade treasurer Eric Bing.
The celebration, which includes a memorial service, picnic, USO concert and a mammoth fireworks show, is posing considerable logistical challenges.
The tanks will arrive at night when downtown traffic is lightest and be driven around, not over, Metro stations and tunnels.
Eight hundred portable toilets have been ordered.
The $400,000 reviewing stand that is being built for President Bush and 250 dignitaries will have bulletproof glass and secure telephone lines.
Bush and Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf are scheduled to meet in the middle of Constitution Avenue for a ceremonial presentation before the parade begins, sending the Secret Service into overdrive in planning for his protection.