Savannah Says No to Smooching Soldiers in St. Pat's Day Parade

The 3rd Infantry Division's Command Sgt. Maj. Jeffrey Ashmen gets a kiss during the St. Patrick's Day parade in Savannah on March 17, 2011. (US Army photo/Monica Smith)
The 3rd Infantry Division's Command Sgt. Maj. Jeffrey Ashmen gets a kiss during the St. Patrick's Day parade in Savannah on March 17, 2011. (US Army photo/Monica Smith)

SAVANNAH, Ga. -- No more smooches for soldiers.

The Army is kissing a decades-long St. Patrick's Day tradition goodbye in Georgia's port city, saying smudged lipstick doesn't go with the uniform.

For more than 40 years, spectators at one of the world's largest St. Patrick's Day parades have darted into the street to peck passing soldiers. But this month, Savannah's parade committee announced that tradition is not to be continued, sparking frustration from longtime residents.

"Even though rules are meant to be broken, I don't think traditions are," said Brian Ferguson, who once marched in the parade as a band member.

Mims Deriso wore the lipstick marks proudly when he paraded, seeing it as appreciation for the military. "It's a shame it's got to go," he said.

Brian Counihan also once received those kisses as a cadet in the 1970s, but as this year's parade chairman, he said it's time to smudge the smooching for good.

"A few people, you know girlfriends, would run out and hug you and kiss you, and then eventually some of the mothers did it, and it's just blown up from there," Counihan told Fox News.

He acknowledged that "it is fun," but the snowballing number of participants running into the street transformed the tradition into an "accident waiting to happen."

"I'm not an old scrooge or anything, but we have a parade to look after, we have liability," Counihan said. He recalled a few years ago when a band member's lip was busted from eager spectators bumping into paraders.

But the initial push for change actually came from Fort Stewart-Hunter Army Airfield with concerns rooted in something else -- consent.

"Taking a fresh look at it, how might a soldier feel if they didn't want to be kissed?" asked Major Megan Jantos, a public affairs officer with the 3rd Infantry Division. "Soldiers have expressed feeling uncomfortable with this tradition, and leaders have voiced concern at all levels."

Fox News approached numerous 3rd Infantry Division soldiers, who all said they had "no response."

Jantos acknowledged that it's a tradition that has been around for so long, it doesn't phase most locals. But when she flips the genders -- a man running out to kiss any woman -- she said more people appear to understand.

"There's people out there who like to receive appreciation in that form, unfortunately not everybody does, and so we just want to make sure everyone is respected," Jantos said.

But, why now?

Fox News asked if Vice President Mike Pence's expected attendance influenced the timing; Jantos responded, "Absolutely not."

Both Jantos and Counihan said the stoppage of smooches has been in discussion for several years.

"I guess I was more vocal than most chairmen, and it just caught fire," Counihan said.

Several years ago, the parade committee stopped marchers from throwing candy and beads to spectators "because of children running out and ducking down in front of cars."

Now, Counihan said they're stopping something else for the same reason -- safety.

Jantos pointed to momentum from recent national discussions around sexual misconduct in the workplace, saying Fort Stewart-Hunter Army Airfield is "always looking to step up and take a fresh look at [their] traditions."

Though, the Army and parade committee's push for change is just a request to spectators, so who's to say if folks with a few shamrock shakes in them will comply.

About 200 soldiers will wind through Historic Downtown Savannah today -- joining 280 units including bands, families, societies, public servants and commercial floats.

The parade traditionally attracts several hundred thousand people, but with Vice President Mike Pence's expected arrival, Counihan estimated upwards of 600,000 spectators this year.

Savannah's first St. Patrick's Day parade traces back to 1824, and officials told Fox News that even then the city celebrated its local troops.

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