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WOONSOCKET â€“ Donâ€™t look for the Rhode Island National Guard marching band in the lead division of the Autumnfest Parade on Columbus Day.
They wonâ€™t be there.
For the first time in many years, the 40-member military contingent known as the â€śGovernorâ€™s Own 88th Army Bandâ€ť will be unable to perform in the parade â€“ and other holiday events around the state â€“ because of the partial government shutdown.
â€śItâ€™s unfortunate,â€ť said Lt. Col. Peter Parente, spokesman for the Guard. â€śThe citizens of Rhode Island have really supported the guard. We look forward to participating in these events and getting back to our communities.â€ť
Parente said the shutdown means the guard doesnâ€™t have any money to pay the soldiers for ceremonial duties like parades, honor guards and firing details that are heavily in demand this time of year. This is true despite the fact that some 400 â€śmilitary techniciansâ€ť furloughed since Oct. 1 were called back to duty Monday, rejoining 300 full-time active duty guard members who were unaffected by the shutdown.
Thatâ€™s because guard salaries are apportioned in multiple budgets, said Parente. â€śThose special ceremonial duties are in a separate budget and that has not been funded.â€ť
Even if band members wanted to perform ceremonial duties on their own time, doing so would be a violation of military protocols. Soldiers may be deployed only at some level of military status, even if itâ€™s ceremonial; otherwise the government would be liable for damages in the event of an accident, according to Parente.
â€śIt came as a real shock to me when the Guard called last Friday and said they couldnâ€™t participate,â€ť said Autumnfest Parade Chairwoman Linda Plays. â€śThey felt really bad but itâ€™s completely out of their hands.â€ť
The Guard traditionally performs in the lead division of the 10-division parade, which also includes local politicians, visiting dignitaries and military veterans. She said the Guard contingent will be sorely missed because â€śit lent a flavor of patriotism and honorâ€ť to the procession. The parade is the signature event of Autumnfest, the annual civic bash founded 35 years ago.
Parente said the Guard had been forced to cancel commitments to fewer than a dozen events scheduled for the Columbus Day weekend around the state. One of the most-attended, other than Autumnfest, will be the Columbus Day Parade on Federal Hill in Providence.
But Parente said the Guard has made commitments for many more Veterans Day events, scheduled Nov. 9-11, which could be in jeopardy if the shutdown lasts that long.
â€śRight now we are tracking 15 events and we plan on supporting them all,â€ť he said. â€śWe are hoping we can get back to business as soon as possible.â€ť
Parente said the Guardâ€™s planning may be affected by its budget for replacement motor vehicle parts and fuel, which remains unfunded because of the shutdown. The Guardâ€™s foremost responsibility is to serve as the stateâ€™s first military responders in the event of natural disasters.
As the shutdown drags on, the pressure will grow to conserve existing resources to make sure the Guard is ready for an unexpected emergency, said Parente.
â€śWeâ€™re still in hurricane season,â€ť he said. â€śWe have to reserve our resources should one of these natural disasters occur.â€ť
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