"A Nation's Gratitude" White House Dinner

02/16/2012 12:52 pm ET | Updated Apr 17, 2012

While questions -- and controversy -- abound on the issue of whether, and when, to have a national ticker-tape parade for our Iraq War veterans, the Obama administration is proceeding with plans to hold a formal dinner honoring those troops at the White House on February 29.

When the White House first announced plans for this dinner a week ago, few details were known as to who would receive the coveted invites. Only that representatives from both the enlisted and officer ranks would be invited and that the dinner -- "an unprecedented event by the White House, normally reserved for foreign dignitaries" -- is designed to be "an expression of the nation's gratitude for the achievements and enormous sacrifices of the brave Americans who served in the Iraq War and of the families who supported them."

Yesterday, USA Today published some of the "criteria" that were used to make up the list of troops to be invited and information about others who will also be attending:

First and foremost, the Pentagon had to -- in just a few days -- select 64 troops to represent the 1.5 million American men and women who fought in Iraq.

The troops had to be combat veterans representing every Branch of Service, every state and territory, and "[E]thnic, racial and gender diversity was crucial, and... every rank had to be included."

"There will be 29 soldiers, 17 Marines, eight Airmen, eight sailors and two members of the Coast Guard; 21 officers up through a three-star general and 43 enlisted members down to a private; and 50 men and 14 women."

According to USA Today:

"The whole kit and caboodle," said Marine Sgt. Maj. Brian Battaglia, senior enlisted adviser to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and highest ranking enlisted officer in the military.

"What we wanted inside that (East) Room is America," Battaglia said of the White House location where the dinner will be held.

The 64 Iraq War veterans will be among 100 guests being invited to the White House, including "the service chiefs, families who lost a loved one in combat and other selected VIPs."

The issue of the ticker-tape parade(s) will continue, but the evening of February 29, themed "A Nation's Gratitude" and believed to be "the first such event of its kind at the White House to mark the end of a major war" promises to be an unforgettable experience for 64 of our combat veterans and a token of the nation's appreciation to all of the 1.5 million troops who served in Iraq.