WASHINGTON – President Bush (search) kicked off a busy week of inaugural activities in advance of Thursday's ceremony swearing him in to the presidency for a second term.
The president and first lady Laura Bush on Tuesday attended a "Saluting Those Who Serve" event, featuring various musical guests, at the MCI Center. The program was broadcast to troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. Among those who attended were soldiers still recuperating at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center (search) in Washington, D.C., from wounds suffered in Iraq, as well as Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Vice President Dick Cheney, former President George H.W. Bush and former first lady Barbara Bush.
The event was moderated by comedian Kelsey Grammer and featured performers such as "Saturday Night Live" comedian Darrell Hammond.
"Whether you serve in the Army, the Navy, the Air Force, Marines or Coast Guard, each of you has stepped forward to serve," Bush said when he took the stage. "You have risked your lives in far away mountains and arid deserts, in perilous skies and on the high seas to defend liberty and to free those trapped by tyranny. As I prepare to take the oath of office, I want you to know how grateful I am for your service and sacrifice and how proud I am to be your commander in chief."
Later in the day, a young crowd, bathed in orange and green spotlights, cheered Bush and his wife at a local armory. Entertainers who included the rock band "3 Doors Down" and singer Hilary Duff, who ran on stage in a black sequin top and Capri jeans, warmed up the crowd for the president.
"My call to you all is that as you enjoy the great freedoms of America and as you enjoy yourself at this inauguration, I hope you take away the lesson of helping somebody in need," he said at the event called "America's Future Rocks Today." "And when you do, it will not only make our country a better place, it will lift up your own spirit."
In the middle of the concert Tuesday night, the lead singer of Fuel proclaimed, "Welcome to the greatest ----ing country in the world." Brett Scallions followed with a quick apology of "excuse my language."
The strange outburst was one of the most interesting moments of the concert, hosted by Bush twins Jenna and Barbara, who were in the audience but did not come on stage.
In between attending the array of events on Tuesday, the president practiced the address he'll give after Thursday's oath of office is administered.
White House spokesman Scott McClellan said the roughly 17-minute speech is now "pretty much" in its final form and that the theme is "spreading freedom."
Abroad, that means bringing democracy to nations that don't yet live under it. And at home, according to McClellan, it means "empowering people, not government" — a reference to Bush's second-term agenda headed by partially privatizing Social Security.
McClellan said Bush will refer to "historic and hopeful" times and will speak of "big challenges" facing America. He will also say that if the parties work together, they can accomplish "big things."
The president spoke Tuesday at a party for young Republicans attending the inauguration to "highlight the importance of volunteerism and community service" and encourage "youth in America to participate in community service," McClellan said.
He made brief remarks of thanks at two private receptions for supporters — one for RNC members and the other hosted by Jeanne Johnson Phillips (search), chairwoman of the presidential inaugural committee.
Military jets flew over the Ellipse near the White House just before noon on Tuesday as the pilots practiced maneuvers they'll make during Thursday's opening inaugural ceremonies.
The president was also granting a rare round of television interviews. He was asked by FOX News how the next four years will be different from the last four.
"I know what to anticipate. And that is the unexpected," the president replied. "Secondly, I'm no longer a threat politically. In other words, since I'm no longer going to run for office again, people don't have to view me as a threat and hopefully, that will enable people from both parties to come together and get things done for the country."
Asked whether that makes the job easier or harder, Bush replied: "I think it makes it easier to the extent that Washington is a zero-sum game ... a second term provides a great opportunity to pull people together."
Wednesday: Skydivers and Fireworks
On Wednesday, Bush was to tour the National Archives in the morning, during which time he will look at George Washington's inaugural address and Bible used during the first president's inauguration. Then, he will tour the rotunda area and look at the Declaration of Independence, Constitution, and Bill of Rights.
A total of 14 military aircraft will take part in an aerial flyover during "The Celebration of Freedom Event" that begins at 4 p.m. at The Ellipse. They include a B-2 bomber and four F-15 Strike Eagles and four F-16 Falcons from the Air Force. The Marine Corps is also sending a formation of three Harrier jump-jets and the Navy will have a pair of F-18 Hornets in the air. Plans call for the Strike Eagles to perform the missing-man formation honoring fallen military personnel.
The Army's parachute team, the Golden Knights (search), will jump into the opening ceremony at 4 p.m. The world-class skydivers jumped for the inauguration of the 41st president of the United States, George H.W. Bush, and most recently conducted a tandem jump with the former president in June 2004, to celebrate his 80th and the Army's 229th birthdays.
This event will also feature musical artists' videos and other forms of entertainment. The show will conclude with remarks by Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney, and be followed by a musical finale and a fireworks display.
The president will later attend candlelight dinners at Union Station, the Washington Hilton and the Pension Building for campaign donors who gave $100,000 or more. Afterwards, Bush plans to party at the much-anticipated Black Tie and Boots Ball (search), sponsored by the Washington chapter of the Texas State Society at the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel.
Thursday: Swearing-In and the Party Scene
Bush will formally be sworn in by Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist (search) on Thursday during a ceremony at the Capitol building before he delivers his second inaugural address. House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., will administer the oath of office to Cheney. Call to order and welcoming remarks will be by Sen. Trent Lott, R-Miss., chairman of the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies (search).
The Rev. Luis Leon will deliver the invocation for the ceremony and Pastor Kribyjon Caldwell will deliver the benediction.
Joining the president and vice president will be their families, members of the Cabinet and administration, members of the House and Senate, Supreme Court, Diplomatic Corps, Joint Chiefs of Staff and other invited guests.
The 1.7-mile inaugural parade featuring 11,000 people, floats, vehicles and horses will be held along Pennsylvania Avenue from 2 p.m. to 4:30 p.m.
The National Weather Service (search) forecast calls for partly cloudy conditions in the morning, then becoming mostly cloudy. High temperatures are expected to be in the mid-30s with a 40 percent chance of snow showers. Winds are expected to be from the northwest at 5 to 10 mph, increasing to around 15 mph in the afternoon.
Also on Thursday, the Christian mission Faith and Action will host Christian ministers and others for a one-hour early morning prayer service for Bush at its Capitol Hill headquarters, located across the street from the U.S. Supreme Court and a block from the Capitol.
"No president is perfect," said Rev. Rob Schenck, president of Faith and Action (search), "but George Bush has done more than any recent president to champion what is important to serious Christians of every tradition: the sanctity of human life, the sanctity of marriage and the public acknowledgement of God. We're thankful that God heard our cries and gave us four more years of a Bush administration."
Although temperatures are expected to be low, security isn't; more than 6,000 law enforcement personnel will be on hand for the events Thursday.
Gaining access to the area around the presidential inauguration and parade route over the next few days is going to get more and more difficult.
U.S. Capitol Police (search) Chief Terrance Gainer told a local television news channel that over the next 50 hours, the area around the Capitol will be gradually shut down. Gainer said the largest number of closures will come on Wednesday evening.
Anyone planning on attending the inauguration ceremony or parade will have to pass through some type of security. Gainer said people should allow time for that. Some road closures will take place Tuesday afternoon.
Thursday night is the big party night. Although various organizations are holding pre-inauguration day events and galas during the week, Thursday is the night of the nine official inaugural balls, all of which the president and first lady likely will briefly stop by for a dance.
To close out the week of activities, a national prayer service will be held from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m. at the National Cathedral in Washington on Friday.
FOX News' Liza Porteus and The Associated Press contributed to this report.