VMI 14th Time in Inaugural Parade
LEXINGTON, Va., Dec. 20, 2012 – The Virginia Military Institute Corps of Cadets has once more been selected to march in a presidential inaugural parade. Cadets will march in the parade launching the second term of President Barack Obama on Jan. 21.
Nearly 3,000 applications were received by the Joint Task Force – National Capital Region by the Nov. 30 deadline, and, as of Dec. 19, VMI was one of 43 groups to have accepted invitations to participate. Only one other group from Virginia, Canine Companions for Independence of Fauquier County, was invited.
The 2013 Inaugural Parade will be the 14th in which VMI cadets have marched. The first, that of President William Howard Taft in 1909, was the first since 1860 to include a southern military unit. The most recent was the parade for Obama’s first inauguration, in 2009, exactly 100 years after Taft’s.
For the cadets, who have departed post for Christmas furlough and will return Jan. 13, that first week back will be a hectic one, with briefings, inspections, and practice parades each day.
“Preparing for the presidential inauguration requires a change from the typical VMI drill and ceremony because we don’t normally march in a 15-man front,” said Col. Keith Gibson ’77, executive director of the VMI museum system, who marched in the 1977 parade honoring the inauguration of President Jimmy Carter.
Maj. Chris Perry ’05, assistant commandant for cadet life, recalls the week he spent preparing with the Corps for the Inaugural Parade in 2005, for President George W. Bush. “It was very hectic. The preparation was … the same thing over and over on the Parade Ground and around the Parade Ground. We were out there for at least two hours a day.”
“The preparation time of one week will be a challenge, but our cadets know how to march, and it will be a matter of tightening up the lines and tweaking the small stuff so that we look absolutely perfect,” said Lt. Col. Mitch Fridley ’89, assistant commandant of cadets. “The difficult parts to work are the administrative and logistical pieces – meals, bus manifests, travel routes, security, liaison with Secret Service, accountability, etc. I’m very confident that our cadets will step up to the challenge and look great.”
The schedule of the event itself is demanding, requiring cancellation of classes that Monday and an early morning departure, followed by hours of waiting and a security check, a part of the process Perry remembers well.
“We had to go through security, which was probably the longest part of the day because all of our rifles had to be checked,” he said. “Every rifle had to go through … to make sure there weren’t any firing pins.”
If this year’s parade is similar to that of 2009, the cadets will pass the reviewing stand after dark, only to head to buses, back to VMI and classes on Tuesday.
“VMI alumni all over waited patiently to see the VMI cadets march by [in 2009],” said Gibson. “There was a concern by folks watching it on television that they might cut away.” The Corps was the next-to-last unit to march, and the largest, passing the reviewing stand just before 8 p.m.
The honor of marching in the parade is worth all the challenges, however, as Gibson recalls.
“As an alumnus, you look back upon your brief four years of cadetship, and you acknowledge what a rare opportunity it was to be a cadet at VMI, live among the rarified environment of the honor system and the VMI barracks. … And among the ranks of VMI alumni is even a smaller group of graduates who have that privilege …of being asked to participate in the inaugural parade.”