Budget cuts keeps Army’s Old Guard away from celebration

The British are still coming to Lexington’s annual Patriots Day celebrations, but thanks to sequestration, the US Army’s Old Guard has canceled.

The federal cuts that kicked in at the beginning of March have forced the Third US Infantry Regiment, known as the Old Guard, to cancel its rare visit to the area and its plans to participate in Patriots Day celebrations in Lexington and surrounding towns, and make a visit to Boston Common.

The Old Guard, which is the Army’s official ceremonial unit and escort to the president, had been penciled in to anchor a weekend of Patriots Day celebrations in Lexington. The cancellation has sent event planners in Lexington scrambling to find a replacement.

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“It was quite devastating, actually,” said Linda Dixon, a member of the town’s Celebrations Committee. “Fortunately, we coped.”

In addition to celebrating the Battle on the Lexington Green on the first day of the American Revolutionary War, the town is celebrating its 300th anniversary this year, and had moved the traditional Patriots Day parade from its usual time slot on the Monday holiday to an earlier time on April 14 to mark the tercentennial anniversary.

Following the early Monday-morning Patriots Day reenactment of the Battle of Lexington between the Minutemen and the British that typically attracts thousands of visitors to the town, the Old Guard was going to step into the afternoon time slot vacated by the parade and carry on the celebration.

But the trip to the Boston area was going to cost the Old Guard, the oldest active-duty infantry unit in the Army, about $40,000 in travel expenses, said Major John Miller, a spokesman for the regiment.

When the federal budget cuts known as sequestration took effect at the beginning of last month, Miller said, an order came down that all military travel for outreach had been suspended — including the Old Guard’s trip to Boston.

The unit is based at Fort Myer in Arlington, Va., and had been planning to visit several other communities, such as Acton and Arlington, and to march along the Freedom Trail and visit Boston Common, said Miller.

About 50 members of the regiment’s Fife and Drum Corps were going to make the trip, along with members of the Commander-in-Chief’s Guard, who wear Revolutionary War-era uniforms and demonstrate the weapons and tactics of the era.

Miller said the last time the Old Guard traveled anywhere close to the area was in 2008, when it visited Newport, R.I.

One of the primary duties of the regiment, in addition to attending funerals at Arlington National Cemetery, is to conduct outreach to educate people about what the Army does.

The regiment wanted to do just that in the Boston area because there are not any active Army units in the vicinity, Miller said.

Dixon said that despite the Old Guard’s late cancellation, planners in Lexington have been able to find substitute entertainment for Patriots Day, including a visit by the Original Shepherd’s Pie Dixieland Band and the Norwich University Regimental Band and Drill Team.

She said the average person who didn’t realize the Old Guard had been scheduled for the finale of Patriots Day celebrations on April 15 will not know the difference, and will have a wonderful time.

“And that is what is important,” she said.

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