Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
Washington CNN —  

Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg on Wednesday slammed President Donald Trump’s upcoming July Fourth “Salute to America” parade, saying that the event – which will feature military tanks and flyovers in Washington – only “makes America look smaller.”

“One of the reasons I joined the military was that in a small way I wanted to be part of seeing to it that my country was not the kind of place where a leader feels the need to boost his own ego by rolling tanks down the streets of our capital,” the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, told CNN’s Jake Tapper on “The Lead.” “We’ve always been bigger than that.”

“We’ve been the kind of country that traditionally respects our military enough not to use them as props,” he added.

Trump’s event has drawn considerable scrutiny ahead of Independence Day. The US military is expected to be central to Thursday’s celebration, with plans to showcase M1 Abrams tanks, a military plane flyover and a variety of weapons.

While Trump tweeted earlier this week that the military was “thrilled” to participate in the parade, CNN reported Wednesday that military chiefs have concerns about the politicization of the event, according to a source with direct knowledge of the situation.

When asked what military officials onstage with Trump should do if he takes an overtly political tone in his speech, Buttigieg said, “I wouldn’t advise the generals, chiefs on what to do. They have to follow their conscience.”

“But it is putting them in an awkward situation,” he added.

Buttigieg served for six years as an intelligence officer in the Navy Reserves, including a six-month deployment to Afghanistan. The 37-year-old mayor has wielded these military credentials on the campaign trail, contrasting himself with Trump, who never served in the military.

“It helps me demonstrate the difference between how I’m oriented and how the current President is,” Buttigieg told CNN of his military service in May. “We responded to the country’s call to serve in very different ways.”

Buttigieg’s comments Wednesday come on the heels of a major fundraising haul – $24.8 million from 294,000 people – in the second quarter of 2019, enough to top former Vice President Joe Biden ($21.5 million) and Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont ($18 million), who both brandish significantly higher name recognition than Buttigieg.

Despite this, a CNN poll following the first round of Democratic debates found Buttigieg polling at just 4% support, a number he says will rise as his campaign continues to “introduce ourselves” to voters.

“There are still a great many Americans who haven’t heard of us or don’t know much about me and my campaign, so it tells you we have a lot of upside but we have to go introduce ourselves,” Buttigieg said. “And the great news about this fundraising total is that it means we’ll have the resources to do it.”

CNN’s Jeff Zeleny contributed to this report.