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Inauguration week honors U.S. troops

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George W. Bush

(CNN) -- As the first presidential inauguration since September 11, 2001 approaches, organizers are preparing a four-day wartime salute to the U.S. armed forces -- including concerts for troops, black-tie dinners and a special inaugural ball for military personnel.

"Celebrating Freedom, Honoring Service" -- the official theme of the inauguration -- will be underscored by colorful, military-dominated events, culminating Thursday night when President Bush hosts a ball for U.S. troops who served in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Tuesday's "Saluting Those Who Serve" event at Washington's MCI Center kicks off the week's official schedule.

"It will be a diverse showcase of entertainers from people like actor Kelsey Grammer, boxing promoter Don King and Gloria Estefan," said Kevin Sheridan of the Presidential Inaugural Committee.

Thousands of U.S. military personnel have been invited to the afternoon concert, which also includes Miss USA 2004 Shandi Finnessey.

Later Tuesday, singers Hilary Duff and "American Idol" winner Ruben Studdard will rock the city's Armory. First twins Jenna and Laura Bush are expected to attend.

On Wednesday, "A Celebration of Freedom," a free, outdoor event at the Ellipse -- near the White House -- features the Gatlin Brothers, Tony award-winning actress Kristen Chenoweth, NASCAR's Dale Earnhardt Jr., Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin and actor Gary Sinise.

Past wartime inaugurals have been less celebratory, said Jim Bendat, author of "Democracy's Big Day: The Inauguration of Our President."

"In 1917 -- with President Woodrow Wilson -- we were on the eve of World War I, and it was a very solemn inauguration," Bendat said. "There was a parade, but there were no inaugural balls."

In 1945, during World War II, "for President Franklin Roosevelt's fourth inauguration, there was a very quiet inauguration at the White House that took place on one of the balconies," Bendat said. "There were people outside -- but it was a small gathering, and there was no inaugural parade, there were no inaugural balls. It was a pretty quiet and somber occasion." (Full story)

This year, nine inaugural balls are scheduled, including the Commander-in-Chief Ball, a soiree hosting troops who are heading to -- or who have returned from -- Iraq or Afghanistan. The party appropriately will be held at the National Building Museum --- a structure that originally was built to honor Union troops of the Civil War.

Greg Jenkins, executive director of the Presidential Inauguration Committee, said about 2,000 troops will attend the ball.

"The president made it clear that he wanted to pay special tribute in a special way to those armed forces -- men and women -- who put their lives on the line every day, with particular emphasis on the war on terror," Jenkins said.

The quadrennial presidential celebration is expected to cost about $40 million, with money raised from ticket sales and private donations. Bleacher-seat tickets along the inaugural parade route cost $15, $60 or $125, and tickets to the balls are priced at $150 per person. Donations by individuals and private corporations are limited to $250,000. (Full story)

A hastily organized inauguration in 2001 cost about the same as this year's event. In 1997, President Clinton's inauguration cost about $33 million -- although it included more inaugural balls.

Organizers expect some 500,000 spectators to watch the parade along its nearly two-mile route from the Capitol to the White House. The parade follows Bush's swearing-in ceremony at noon Thursday at the Capitol. (Full story)

The U.S. Secret Service will direct an unprecedented security plan for a presidential inauguration, including Coast Guard surveillance along the Potomac River and 6,000 police and 7,000 troops spread throughout the nation's capital. (Full story)

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