Operation Rose Parade: USMC
Doug Power, my formidable, neighbor is a retired Marine Corps sergeant major. I’m convinced, only the Joint Chiefs of Staff know more about the military than Doug does.
“In February of 2009, I decided it was time to take action on a life-long dream. I wanted to ride on a horse in the Rose Parade in Pasadena, California,” Doug tells me. I was stationed at the Marine Corps Mountain Warfare Training Center, up on Sonora Pass back then. First thing I did, was call a friend in Barstow, who was in charge of the Marine Mounted Color guard. He tells me the name of the person who does the selecting of equestrian units for the parade,” Doug says. A beachhead is established.
“I call the guy, and he listens very patiently. He says his dad was in the Marine Corps in WW II, and he just passed away. Further, he said he was quite sure we could be in the parade. But, we would have to send still pictures, a video, and truck and trailer measurement, plus have the info in by March 31st. They even sent a representative to see us in the Bridgeport, 4th of July parade,” Doug says. “Operation Rose Parade” moves into pre-invasion mode.
“Tony Parkhurst is in charge of the horsemanship program, and mule packing course. Tony and I confer. We select Marines, four horses, and six mules for the trip. A video is taken of the group in full combat regalia, and sent to Rose Parade Association. Not wanting to breach military procedures, a request is sent to Marine Corps Headquarters for approval.
Tony and Doug explain the project to their Commanding Officer. “Sir, this is a once in a life time opportunity,” etc., and their Colonel says, “go for it.” President Obama couldn’t ask for better cooperation.
In September, the Colonel, Tony, and Doug drive to Pasadena and are briefed on what to expect. Now it’s time “to get the show on the road.”
“I brief everyone on the base. I tell them we’ll be riding the horses and mules for 3 or 4 hours, a day, every day, through November and December. I ask them to make noise, jump up and down, open windows, and slam doors. I even get the fire department to follow us with their sirens wailing, and horns honking. I want to simulate crowd noise, marching band ruckus, and the floats,” Doug says. (If I had rehearsed my dancers that hard, I’d either be in jail, or a big name on Broadway!)
Dec. 30 approval from Marine Headquarters arrives, and off they go. In Pasadena, horses are boarded, and the Marines sleep on cots at the Marine Corps Reserve Center(for total accuracy, I’m not so sure about the Colonel sleeping on a cot).
It’s New Year’s Eve. At 7 p.m., the freeway is shut down. Only equestrian units are allowed. “We’re shown to where we park for the night. We tie up the stock to the side of the trailer. The Rose Parade Committee has coffee, hot chocolate and snacks for us. We bed down on the shoulder of the freeway in sleeping bags. People walk by, and see us sleeping, and say how tough Marines are. It’s a fine line between being tough, and stupid, because the Marine Corps Color Guard members are sleeping in their RV’s,” Doug says.
“At midnight, the bands arrive, and insist on tuning up. Fortunately we are unarmed. Helicopters with searchlights are flying everywhere. It’s like a war zone. At 3 a.m., the Rose Parade volunteers sound reveille. At 5 a.m., we saddle up, load the mules with gear, put on our helmets, and follow a guy on a scooter to our position in the parade. First, the Marine Color Guard, then the Marine Corps Band, then us,” he says.
“So you just sit on your horse from 5 a.m.-8 a.m.? “ I ask Doug.
“That was tough, but at 8 a.m., when the band starts playing the Marines Hymn, and we start moving it’s beyond belief. In seconds we’re in front of huge bleachers on either side of us. People are cheering, wildly. It’s like nothing I’ve ever seen before. We’re nervous, the horses are nervous, but fortunately we all keep it together. For over 5 miles we ride, with the band in front of us. I served with the band leader in Iraq. The Marine Corps is a very small family,” Doug says.
When the parade ends, the stock are loaded in the trailer. The Marines are given complimentary In-And Out burgers, and they’re soon on their way back to the Base. Later, Doug receives a plaque from the Rose Parade Association.
“It’s an experience I’ll remember my entire life, and I’m glad you coerced me into telling this story, Ron,” Doug says.
Hundreds of millions of people, in foreign countries saw the Rose Parade on television. It might be the only impression they will ever have, of who we are. I wonder at their reaction? It takes hundreds of volunteers, and many generous sponsors to pull off such a gigantic event. Well, I can’t thank ‘em all, but I sure can thank you, Doug.
Ron Walker lives in Smith Valley. He can be reached at email@example.com.