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Flyovers, Marine marching bands return to action under new DoD guidance

Dec. 3, 2013 - 06:00AM   |  
2013 Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade
The East Coast Marine Corps Composite Band, comprising 80 instrumentalists from Marine Corps Base Quantico, Va.; Camp Lejeune, N.C.; and Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, N.C., marches through the streets of New York on Thursday in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. New guidance from the Pentagon reinstates some Marine air shows, band performances, Fleet Week and other community outreach events. (Sgt. A.J. Rasure/Marine Corps)
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New Marine Corps marching orders will reinstate outreach events — from Marine Week to flyovers — that were sacrificed in large part to sequestration budget cuts earlier this year.

According to a quietly released Sept. 30 memo from Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, new guidance will reinstate many of the canceled events and unground elite demonstration teams for fiscal 2014, while still requiring a 45 percent cost reduction in outreach programs.

“It is unfortunate that sequestration restrictions have kept us from connecting with nearly a half billion people worldwide over the last six months, and required us to withdraw support from more than 2,800 outreach events throughout the country,” Hagel wrote in the memo. The new outreach plan, he said “will reinstate at a reduced capacity: the jet and jump demonstration teams, band and ceremonial unit appearances, port visits, service weeks, and nonprofit and corporate leader outreach.”

The 45 percent cost reduction, he said, will result in potential savings of nearly $1 billion over the next decade. A separate document indicates the Pentagon expects to save $104 million this year alone.

In the memo, service leaders were authorized to execute branch-specific plans to reflect the savings, effective Oct. 1.

The original cutbacks, spelled out March 15 in a series of directives from the defense secretary, called back the Corps’ Battle Color Detachment — including the “Commandant’s Own” Marine Corps Drum and Bugle Corps, the service’s official Color Guard and its famed Silent Drill Platoon — from a tour of the East Coast. It also limited the Marines’ 10 field bands to performances on base or within their local areas.

A number of Marine and Navy “Fleet Week” events at major port cities were canceled. Across the services, military band appearances were cut back and most special event flyovers were ended.

A Marine spokesman, Capt. Tyler Balzer, said new Marine Corps-specific guidance regarding outreach events is pending publication. But evidence of the new, less-stringent outreach policy is already in effect.

The World Series in October, the first event executed under the new plan, featured a flyover from Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 115, an F/A-18 Hornet squadron out of Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort, S.C. Each military service also sent a color guard to the event.

The current plan also allowed the East Coast Marine Corps Composite Band to perform in New York at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, said Chief Warrant Officer 4 Michael Edmonson, a spokesman for the Marine Corps field bands. Another Marine Corps musical ensemble, the Marine Corps All-Star Jazz Band, is slated to perform at the Texas Music Educators Association in San Antonio in February.

According to Balzer, the new Marine Corps plan also authorizes the following events this year:

■ Birthday Ball activities, including supporting musical units and paid travel for guests of honor

■ Marine Week in Seattle

■ Five “open house” airshows at Marine Corps air stations Miramar, Calif.; Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii; Cherry Point, N.C.; Beaufort, S.C.; and Yuma, Ariz.

■ 16 Harrier/Osprey aircraft demonstrations and flyovers for national sporting events selected by the Office of the Secretary of Defense

■ A 31-day tour for “The President’s Own” U.S. Marine Band

■ Limited reinstatement of travel for the Marine Corps’ 10 regional bands

■ Limited outreach events for Marine Barracks Washington, which houses the Battle Color Detachment

■ Belleau Wood Commemoration (supported by marching platoon and a field band)

■ Outreach for non-government, civic and corporate organizations, including events such as the Marine Corps Executive Forum

Any outreach activities and expenditures beyond these events will require a waiver from Hagel’s office, Balzer said.

The reinstatement of the popular Miramar Air Show is welcome news for Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif. Hunter fired off inquiries about the show after the Pentagon grounded aerial demonstrations for the event in July.

When the air show was abruptly canceled altogether amid the government shutdown in October, the air station lost $700,000 on an event that typically makes money, the Union-Tribune San Diego reported.

In a letter to Hunter reviewed by Marine Corps Times, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Community and Public Outreach Rene Bardorf said the Miramar Air Show fell into the category of community outreach activities, which were prohibited during the shutdown. The World Series flyover three weeks later was conducted under the new Pentagon guidance and was considered to have no added cost to the government, since the air maneuvers were categorized as training.

A spokesman for Hunter’s office, Joe Kasper, said the letter of clarification was appreciated, but that Hunter still found the rationale for canceling a profitable event lacking and felt the new outreach policy was arbitrary and contradictory, especially as long-term budget cuts remain in effect.

“If anything, we’re getting further into the post-sequester budget,” he said.

Officials say they expect a Marine administrative message with more details regarding the new outreach policy to be published this week.

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