"It's an opportunity for the people of North Carolina to get in here and say, 'Hey, guys, we appreciate what you do to ensure the freedoms that we enjoy every day,'" Van Krebs, the event director, said.
The streets of downtown Raleigh were packed to watch the biggest military appreciation event in state history. WRAL anchors David Crabtree and Pam Saulsby hosted the parade from the grandstand, and retired Air Force Lt. Gen. Robert Springer joined in with commentary.
"I'm grateful North Carolina appreciates the troops the way they do," said Spc. Robert Mitchell, of the 18th Airborne Corps.
Krebs said the parade down Fayetteville Street didn't have a political agenda. It was intended to salute the troops stationed across the globe and the families who wait for their safe return, he said.
"It's not pro-war. It's not anything other than pro-military and pro-military appreciation," Krebs said.
A day-long with festival with military equipment and five NASCAR Sprint Cup cars on display follows the parade. Paradegoers can even make their own dog-tags and sample barbecue from the N.C. Pork Council.
The Marbles Kids Museum was open free to active-duty military personnel and their families. The Carolina RailHawks offered at least 1,000 free tickets to service members and their relatives.
"It's good to see the support of civilians, even though we wish for more, because it's hard for us, to be military," said a teary-eyed Hildie Dietrich, the wife of a soldier.
The event aimed to be a huge morale booster for troops, said Sgt. Josh Pope, who performed with the 440th Army Band from Morrisville, a North Carolina National Guard unit.
"For anybody's who's found themselves in a challenging time, to receive support from external groups and parties, it means a whole lot," Pope said.
Spearheaded by the North Carolina Bankers Association, Salute to Our Troops was also supported by nearly 40 businesses, including WRAL-TV and its parent company, Capitol Broadcasting Corp.
"We were immediately on board, because this is such a military state," Phyllis Parish, WRAL-TV's parade producer, said. "We have so many families with spouses, brothers, sisters that are serving our country, and so we knew the importance of this."