PARIS, France – The U.S. led the way down the Avenue des Champs-Elysées for the Military Parade on Bastille Day as the country of honor in commemoration of the centennial of U.S. entry into World War I (WWI) here July 14, 2017.
This marked the first time ever the U.S. was selected as the country of honor – a tradition that highlights a symbolic gesture of friendship from the French government.
"It's about the partnership – a strong partnership that was forged in war many years ago and endures today," said Commander of U.S. European Command and NATO Supreme Allied Commander Europe, Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti. "France is one of our oldest and closest allies, and so the significance of being the county of honor in their parade today underscores the strength of that partnership – and that we must work to continue to strengthen that partnership."
Almost 200 U.S. Soldiers, Sailors, Marines and Airmen assigned to units in Europe and the 1st Infantry Division, Fort Riley, Kansas, stand in ranks during a rehearsal for the Military Parade on Bastille Day to be held July 14, 2017. This year, the U.S. led the parade as the country of honor in commemoration of the centennial of U.S. entry into World War I – as well as the long-standing partnership between France and the U.S. (U.S. Navy photo by Chief Mass Communication Specialist Michael McNabb/Released)
Altogether, almost 200 U.S. Soldiers, Sailors, Marines and Airmen from units in Europe and the 1st Infantry Division at Fort Riley, Kansas, marched down the Avenue des Champs-Élysées from the Arc de Triomphe to the Place de la Concorde in support of the military parade that serves as a tribute to the Storming of the Bastille on July 14, 1789.
"I'm honored and privileged to be here commemorating such a historic event and celebrating the alliance between France and the United States," said Air Force Senior Airman Jorge Diehl, assigned to the 86th Vehicle Readiness Squadron, Ramstein Air Base, Germany. "I think it shows a great deal of appreciation and trust for them to allow us to lead the parade. It's taken a long time to build that trust."
French President Emmanuel Macron officiated the parade attended by U.S. President Donald Trump and numerous French and U.S. senior military and civilian leaders – including Gen. Joseph Dunford, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Gen. David Goldfein, the Chief of Staff of the Air Force.
In all, this year's parade included more than 3,700 participants and flyovers by the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds; two F-22 Raptors; nine French Alpha Jets streaming blue, white and red contrails; and two French C-135s.
For the commander of U.S. troops, Army Maj. Jared Nichols, assigned to the 1st Infantry Division, the honor of participating was made even more special by the fact his great-grandfather served on the Western Front in France during WWI.
U.S. Soldiers from1st Infantry Division meet a French service member during a break in rehearsal for the Military Parade on Bastille Day to be held in Paris, France, July 14, 2017. (U.S. Navy photo by Chief Mass Communication Specialist Michael McNabb/Released)
"My great-grandfather on my mother's side was a private first class in the American expeditionary force; his name was Rupert Foust," said Nichols. "He served as a medic in the 8th evacuation hospital, primarily dealing with clearing casualties off the battlefield and providing first aid. To be here to commemorate our entrance in a war to support [France] and the rest of the Allies and then also celebrate the French nation and their independence as well, is a great experience."
It was an experience that wasn't lost on Navy Aviation Electrician's Mate 2nd Class John Holley, assigned to Fighter Attack Squadron (VFA) 37, Naval Air Station Oceana, Virginia. He believes the friendships forged here will be life-long.
"We've built a lot of camaraderie so far," said Holley. "We've done a lot of exchanging of patches and telling of stories. We were able to learn why we were here, the history and the importance of it."
Historically, the 1st Infantry Division was the U.S. Army's first division – and was formed in June 1917 to serve in WWI. In 2017, as in 1917, the U.S. stands ready with its European Allies and partners to face emerging threats and an increasingly dynamic regional security environment.
"During the centennial of U.S. entry into WWI, we commemorate America's sons and daughters who defended peace – many of them descendants of European immigrants who came to America seeking freedom, opportunity and a better life," said Scaparrotti. "I just want to salute the Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines and Coast Guard that keep Europe whole, free and at peace."