The annual Atlantic City Salutes America's Armed Forces Parade started out with a significant obstacle this year - a lack of armed forces.
With no military acts in the Atlantic City Airshow this year due to federal budget cuts, the traditional kick-off to airshow week has instead brought in local and state groups and New Jersey-based military units to fill its line of march.
In addition, the parade's new sponsor, the Atlantic City Alliance, is marketing both the parade and the airshow as one large event as a way to boost midweek and June tourism.
The third Armed Forces Parade will kick off with a flyby by at least one of the civilian aircraft in the airshow, parade founder Pinky Kravitz said.
"That's something that's never been done before," Kravitz said. "Also, we're doing something this year that's a little different. We have made the grand marshal the riderless horse, a horse with nobody in the saddle and one boot (hanging) backwards, representing all those who were lost from the Revolutionary War on."
Charlie Coyle, a parade committee member and former organizer, said the across-the-board federal sequester "has limited our access to some (military) units." The various military service bands, for example, were unable to come this year. "But we managed to get around that."
There are about 130 units in the parade, even more than last year's 120, Kravitz said, including eight bands, 16 floats, 21 horses and more than 75 motorcycles.
This year's parade includes, for the first time, 40 New Jersey state troopers, and active military will be represented by a contingent from Joint Base Maguire-Dix-Lakehurst, the 404th Civil Affairs battalion in Ocean County and the Coast Guard Drill Team from Cape May. One of last year's grand marshals, Atlantic City native Rear Adm. Mark Buzby, will also return, along with several Army generals.
"Even with the sequester, we were able to get more (active) military participating," Kravitz said. "We always had a large number of veterans, but now that they know about the parade, they've been very kind in helping us and coming down for us."
This year also brings a new line of march organizer in Dennis Konzelman, of Atlantic City, who has more than 20 years of involvement with the Philadelphia Mummers Parade.
"I just wanted to be more active in the local community," Konzelman said. "I've always loved parades. I've been able to wet my feet and it's been fun."
After two years of being funded by donations, the parade is now fully sponsored by the ACA - though no one is quite sure how much it will cost. Kravitz said the two previous parades came in at $20,000 to $25,000, and as bills come in for this year's event, "they will be taking care of it," Kravitz said of the ACA. "We didn't set up a budget."
ACA spokesman Jeff Guaracino deferred all comment on costs to the organizers. As for marketing, the group is looking at the parade and airshow combination as an untapped opportunity.
"It was really marketed as two different things," Guaracino said. "This year, we really wanted to build up June as a strong kick-off to summer."
Ads in key markets such as New York, Philadelphia and Baltimore are promoting the entire month of June as one large event, he said.
Joe Kelly, president of the Greater Atlantic City Chamber, said a large part of the decision behind moving the events to June was to attract tourists outside the traditional peak season of July 4 to Labor Day.
"As we were strategizing about the airshow and other events, we saw an opportunity to extend the summer season by really having a number of activities a week early (into June)," Kelly said. "Just as Miss America was designed to extend the summer season, we extended it the opposite way at the beginning. And this year we got the best of both worlds."
In addition, the parade was on a Wednesday and the airshow on a Friday last year, a move made to accommodate the Air Force Thunderbirds. The airshow and parade are now returning to their original midweek slots.
"We want to connect the dots for people," Guaracino said. "We want to let them know that if they stay Monday, they can see the parade, Tuesday is the preview for the airshow, and of course the big day is Wednesday."
Three years in, Kravitz said, "the response has been tremendous. ... As the soldiers go by, you hear people in the audience saying, 'God bless you,' 'Thank you' and they start crying. And the veterans start crying."
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