Annapolis is used to having servicemen in its midst. After all, the town is home to the U.S. Naval Academy.
But the presence of all those midshipman hasn't prevented the townspeople from getting excited about a new bunch of military visitors.
About 1,800 sailors and Marines, all Desert Storm veterans, descended yesterday upon Annapolis and the Naval Academy. The sailors, stationed from the Pacific to the Atlantic coasts, came to get a refresher course in marching before participating in tomorrow'sofficial homecoming parade in Washington.
"We're not going to be doing anything of any difficulty," said Marine Sgt. Maj. John R. Holmes, who will in charge of drilling about 200 of the sailors for their march down Constitution Ave. "It's not going to be difficult at all."
"Since they're Navy I've had to work on my cadence of port, starboard, port, starboard," Holmes added.
Reservists from the Maryland and Washington area began driving into the academy grounds yesterday between 10 and 11 a.m., while the regular enlisted men and women -- from bases all over the country -- began arriving in buses shortly after noon. They were greeted by banners, townspeople and a welcoming band.
"Our goal is to make it as easy as possible, and for them to have some fun," said Lt. Cmdr Mike John, a spokesman for the academy.
The academy provided the Desert Storm veterans with a schedule of liberty activities to make sure they have some fun between parade drills.
The Clipper Club was to open its doors for two nights of dancing. The D.C. Council of the Navy League provided tickets to last night's and tonight's Oriole games. Transportation and tickets were provided for trips to the Inner Harbor and Rosecroft Raceway.
But the arriving veterans seemed more focused on marching in tomorrow's parade.
Warrant Officer Reginald Rodgers, who spent six months on the USS Sylvania, said it was overwhelming to see more than 2,000 people waiting at the pier when he arrived home last March. It will be even more overwhelming to march in the homecoming parade, said Rodgers, who is stationed in Norfolk, Va.
"It's a real honor to come up from Norfolk to march in this parade," said Rodgers. "I'm part of the honor guard and I'll be carrying the flag. It means a lot to me. It's just a real honor."
Petty Officer 2nd Class Henry Sarmiento, who served 10 months on the USS Ogden, said he saw the homecoming parade as an opportunity to give something back to people who supported the troops.
"To me it means a chance to show, to give back some of the support the American people gave us," Sarmiento said. "It's a chance to let them know the time we spent over there was worth it.
"You just wouldn't believe all the mail we received. It would have been impossible to correspond with each and everyone of them. This way we get to say thank you. Just being able to march means so much to me," he added.
Warrant Officer Clementine Thomas, who had to leave her husband, 16-year-old daughter and 2-year-old son to serve on the USS Sylvania, said it was difficult for her to put into words how she feels to have the opportunity to march in the parade.
"I feel proud and honored -- patriotism," Thomas said. "I can't put it all into one word, or one sentence. I feel privileged. That's the word. Privileged."