President Barack Obama speaks at the dinner for service members in the East Room of the White House (Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP)

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.

The Obamas arrive at the dinner. (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

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.