After a year hiatus because of the sequester, servicemen are thrilled Fleet Week is back in the Big Apple.
"Fleet Week NYC has always been and will always be the biggest fleet week," in the world, said Capt. Timothy Irish, 28, public affairs officer for the First Marine Corps District. "NYC produces a lot of Marines in the first place, and Long Island has the highest concentration of military veterans in the country," so there is a special resonance to visiting NYC for the 1,500 Coast Guard, Marine and Navy personnel arriving on five different ships to flood our shores Wednesday through Tuesday.
Fleet Week allows participants to show the public they are battle-ready and introduces locals to dazzling high-tech gadgets paid for by their tax dollars, such as the tiltorotor MV-22 Osprey aircraft. But it also serves as a kind of cultural exchange, allowing New Yorkers and service personnel to interact casually and get to know each other, explained Lt. Adam Flores, a deputy public affairs officer with the 2nd Marine Division.
Irish, a veteran of the aquatic extravaganza, has warned newbies to brace themselves for ambush -- by super-sweet, friendly New Yorkers. During a previous Fleet Week, "The people of New York were so much more generous than I expected," thanking him for his service and picking up his every tab for dinner and drinks. "I can't say I ever paid for anything, which really confused me, because I still left with a lot less jingle in my pocket." Irish, of New Hyde Park, chalked the loss up to unconscious shopping.
Servicemen and women will be conducting ship tours, staging demos and participating in charity events and ceremonies, so the little time they have at liberty is precious.
Bernald Rodriguez, 22, a single US Navy information systems technician from Sunnyside, Wash., will not be living up to the "sailor on shore leave" stereotype on his first ever visit to the Big Apple. "I don't drink. I only have one day to see New York and I'm not going to waste it going to bars," he said. A foodie and baseball buff, Rodriguez can't wait to taste NYC's fabled pizza and bagels, catch a Mets or Yankees game and gawk at the Statue of Liberty and Empire State Building. "I'm going to be a classic tourist. I'll probably buy a shirt that says, 'I love NY!'" he said. "I can't wait to actually experience it. Me being from the West Coast and the little town of Sunnyside, just to say to my family 'I've been to New York!'" will be meaningful, he said.
Best of all, Rodriguez will be staying in one of the world's most expensive cities without paying Manhattan hotel prices: "I got myself a nice cozy rack and my rack is for free," he crowed of the dorm-like room he shares with 15 other men on the USS Oak Hill.
Fleet Week "rejuvenates" weary servicemembers, said Hull Technician Chief Petty Officer Micheal Binley, 32, a married father of three from Hampton Roads, Va. The appreciation New Yorkers voice to uniformed personnel "reminds you of why you got into the service in the first place," Binley said.
The NY welcome extends to the subways: "As long as we're in uniform, we get to use all the city-based transportation for free," he noted.
Binley and many of his peers are eager to visit the newly-opened National September 11 Memorial & Museum.
The Memorial is a must-see for the uniformed visitors, and "will be a really touching moment for a lot of these guys," because most current servicemen and women joined the military after 9/11, Irish explained. Fleet Week, he noted, is not just a celebration for the armed forces, but also "an opportunity to do reenlistment and promotion."