WOONSOCKET – Don’t look for the Rhode Island National Guard marching band in the lead division of the Autumnfest Parade on Columbus Day.
They won’t be there.
For the first time in many years, the 40-member military contingent known as the “Governor’s Own 88th Army Band” will be unable to perform in the parade – and other holiday events around the state – because of the partial government shutdown.
“It’s unfortunate,” said Lt. Col. Peter Parente, spokesman for the Guard. “The citizens of Rhode Island have really supported the guard. We look forward to participating in these events and getting back to our communities.”
Parente said the shutdown means the guard doesn’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 “military technicians” furloughed since Oct. 1 were called back to duty Monday, rejoining 300 full-time active duty guard members who were unaffected by the shutdown.
That’s because guard salaries are apportioned in multiple budgets, said Parente. “Those special ceremonial duties are in a separate budget and that has not been funded.”
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 it’s ceremonial; otherwise the government would be liable for damages in the event of an accident, according to Parente.
“It came as a real shock to me when the Guard called last Friday and said they couldn’t participate,” said Autumnfest Parade Chairwoman Linda Plays. “They felt really bad but it’s completely out of their hands.”
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 “it lent a flavor of patriotism and honor” 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.
“Right now we are tracking 15 events and we plan on supporting them all,” he said. “We are hoping we can get back to business as soon as possible.”
Parente said the Guard’s planning may be affected by its budget for replacement motor vehicle parts and fuel, which remains unfunded because of the shutdown. The Guard’s foremost responsibility is to serve as the state’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.
“We’re still in hurricane season,” he said. “We have to reserve our resources should one of these natural disasters occur.”
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