State Arrival Ceremony
A State Arrival Ceremony is a ceremony in which a foreign head of state or head of government is formally welcomed to the United States. It takes place on the South Lawn of the White House, the official residence and principal workplace of the President of the United States in Washington, D.C. The ceremony usually begins a state visit, and is the setting of the initial contact between the two heads of state during the visit. State arrival ceremonies held in recent years are given media coverage by the public affairs TV channel, C-SPAN.
Similar arrival ceremonies formally welcoming foreign defense ministers on official visits to the United States are held with full military honors at the Pentagon in nearby Arlington County, Virginia, and are hosted by the Secretary of Defense.
The idea of a state arrival ceremony at the White House was first conceived by President John F. Kennedy in the spring of 1961. President Kennedy wanted to use the majestic setting of the White House for official welcomes, and to reconnect the modern presidency with the history of the early republic. For previous 20th-century administrations, the Chief of Protocol of the United States had begun a tradition of having the United States Secretary of State greet visiting heads of state at Andrews Air Force Base or sometimes at Union Station in Washington, D.C., with an honor guard.
President Kennedy envisioned a grand ceremony where the White House architecture and grounds would provide a stately setting for a welcome showcasing United States political and military history. President Kennedy worked with the Chief of Protocol and top military leaders on the form of the ceremony. An effort was made to find the right amount of pomp befitting a republic. For the first time, all five branches of the United States Armed Forces were to be included, along with music, an invited audience, diplomatic officials, the press, and a 21-gun salute.
The first state arrival ceremony at the White House took place on October 15, 1962, to greet President Ahmed Ben Bella of Algeria. In reviewing the first state arrival ceremony, President Kennedy was disappointed to find the honor guards, representing each branch of the United States Armed Forces, had been entirely white. All subsequent honor guards have made a point of being multi-racial as a reflection of the United States as a nation of changing demographics and immigration throughout much of its history.
The ceremony evolved over time, and presidents have incorporated, altered, and omitted details. While President Kennedy had avoided the use of a brass fanfare, fearing they would be too regal, President Richard Nixon had new band uniforms with spiked helmets made, and began the tradition of brass fanfares for announcing the president. The spiked helmets were discontinued by President Gerald Ford, but the brass fanfares continued, courtesy of the United States Army Herald Trumpets.
Order of events
The five branches of the United States Armed Forces with their colors are positioned throughout the South Lawn. The flags of the fifty states and flags of overseas United States territories are held aloft by members of the United States Armed Forces. Originally, the flags of the 50 states were positioned to the south, behind the honor guards. During the administration of President George W. Bush, the flags were repositioned along the north edge of the curved drive.
Members of the Official Foreign Delegation are assembled, along with representatives of the three branches of the federal government, embassy staff of the guest country being honored, and the press. Invited guests, sometimes numbering over 4,000 people, include American citizens with ancestral links of the foreign head of state's country. The public are provided with small flags of the United States and of the foreign head of state's country, and an official program embossed with the seal of the President of the United States.
The ceremony is carefully orchestrated, and involves the president and first lady waiting inside the Diplomatic Reception Room on the ground floor of the Executive Residence for word that the foreign head of state's motorcade has approached East Executive Drive. On cue, the United States Army Herald Trumpets located on the state floor balcony of the South Portico, sound a trumpet volley, followed by a member of the diplomatic corps announcing,
|“||Ladies and gentleman, the President of the United States, accompanied by the First Lady.||”|
The United States Army Herald Trumpets perform four ruffles and flourishes. Honor guards will then open the doors of the White House and the president and first lady will emerge. "Hail to the Chief", the presidential fanfare, is immediately played by a military band. The president and first lady stand on the walk awaiting the foreign head of state's motorcade.
Shortly after the president and first lady enter the South Lawn, the guests' motorcade approaches and slows to a stop as a fanfare sounds. The foreign head of state and his or her spouse emerge. They are greeted by the president and first lady, and then move to a raised dais festooned with the United States colors and bunting. A member of the diplomatic corps will announce the playing of the foreign head of state's national anthem, preceded by four ruffles and flourishes. This is followed by the "Star-Spangled Banner". During the playing of the two national anthems, a 21-gun salute is fired for the foreign head of state by the Presidential Salute Guns Battery of the 3rd US Infantry Regiment "The Old Guard". However, if the dignitary is a foreign head of government, a 19-gun salute will be fired. A maximum of three artillery pieces, two primary and one backup, each with a two-man crew consisting of a loader and a gunner, will be supported by five staff members who give firing commands. The Presidential Salute Guns Battery will be located on The Ellipse.
Following the performance of the two national anthems, the president and foreign head of state review honor guards. At this point depending on the pleasure or custom of the foreign head of state, they may greet the public by shaking hands, or simply walk by greeting with a nod or wave.
Next, the Old Guard Fife and Drum Corps, dressed in 18th century colonial uniform, form a parade and march in front of the raised dais. The colonial song "Yankee Doodle" is performed at all state arrival ceremonies, except when the foreign head of state is the reigning monarch from the United Kingdom.
After the parade, the president formally welcomes the foreign head of state to the United States by speaking about the nature of the two nations' friendship, and often finishes with the word "welcome" in the visitors' language. Next, the foreign head of state will give a speech, for which, depending on language barriers, translation may be required. Following these remarks, the president and the foreign head of state will face the Commander of Troops who will indicate that the state arrival ceremony has concluded.
The president, first lady, the foreign head of state, and his or her spouse will enter the White House through the Diplomatic Reception Room on the ground floor. Next, a receiving line and reception will assemble in the Entrance Hall and Cross Hall on the state floor. Immediately thereafter, the president and the foreign head of state will proceed to the Blue Room where they will walk out onto the state floor balcony and wave to the crowds below who are standing on the South Lawn. Walking back inside to the Blue Room, gifts are formally exchanged between them. Also, the foreign head of state will sign the White House guest book in order to document his or her visit. Finally, a private luncheon for the foreign head of state, his or her spouse, and other selected guests, will be hosted by the president and first lady in the President's Dining Room on the residence floor.
Following a state arrival ceremony earlier in the day, it is customary during the evening that a state dinner or official dinner is held in honor of the foreign head of state or government.
State arrival ceremonies on the South Lawn
Arrival ceremonies at the Pentagon
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