Yesterday was the time to wave 10,000 sailors good-bye as they boarded their ships and went off to their next deployment or duty station.
For one sweet week the City was filled with Navy guys, Marines, and Coast Guards all along Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Staten Island. I am not sure if they made their way up to Queens and the Bronx, but as far as I can tell they were well dispersed throughout entire New York. It was an interesting time to see uniforms and groups of disciplined people marching around Manhattan among the usual
crazy/extravagant/over-the-top people. Maybe it was just me, but they gave this town a feel of both normality and exoticness at once.
To me, being surrounded by uniforms has been a crucial part of most of my life. I grew up around a few military bases and went to college on casernes in Germany. The Air Force and Army has been daily routine from an early age on: Showing my ID card at the gate before entering, buying American products in Dollars (tax-free), speaking English with Americans, and celebrating all major American holidays in this little American community. This was about the only way it was possible for me to grow up bilingual AND bi-cultural, because if you don’t experience it from childhood on, you will never feel like you are a part of it all.
Fleet week brought a piece of these home feelings back to me, unintentionally. Only one year ago, I was sick and tired of seeing “douche bags” in uniforms walking around, and I couldn’t stand the sight of something I had successfully erased from my mind. But now, after being away from bases for well over a year, and having gone through some episodes of homesickness and despair, it felt good to look at people who impersonate discipline, who do stupid things with their groups when they are drunk, and who can have a normal conversation with you (without making you feel they are fake/flaky/or plain dumb).
From Wednesday to Wednesday many events were hosted. For a full list, check out their schedule here. Noteworthy was the parade of ships. I got the chance to check out their boats on Memorial Day and took a few pictures to post. Their size is impressive: The USS Iwo Jima counts 844 ft. length, 110 ft. beam, and 30 ft. draft, and holds up to 1,900 Marines. She also carries 30 helicopters.
A Navy cover-music band entertained Time Square on Saturday afternoon. The crowd enjoyed the show, I found the acoustics negotiable. Their attitude was great, though, so much spirit!
After their first night out, sailors were on a curfew due to a tragic accident on the West Side Highway. A Marine was hit and run over by a bypassing car when trying to get back to the head quarters early in the morning. It seemed curfews were kept stricter ever since that incident happened and, for most of the enlisted, the fun ended at 12:30 to 1:00AM. Therefore, a big percentage of them hung out around the piers, preferably on 10th and 9th Avenue. The bars were jammed full with white and green uniforms. Some made their way out to 2nd Ave, a good walk from the other side of the island. It was a great change to meet them – and I am not even going to mention all those American girls going crazy about guys in a uniform – (which seems to be a generalized reaction throughout the world. Why is that?), to drink with them, and to hear some of their stories. And to realize that they, too, are pretty normal people who carry their very own weight just like everyone else. For example the 22-year-old crew chief, who had just gotten separated from his year-long-fiance because their relationship couldn’t make it through the extensive deployments. It seems rather common for Marines or Navy active duties to break up or separate, especially before and after deployments.By the way, crew chief is similar to pilot (yes, unlike the Air Force – it is a different type of job there) and you have to go through one and a half years of training to make it there.
All in all, everyone was just trying to enjoy New York and have a good time in the Big Apple. We welcome you next year again, and stay safe until then! Ahoi to Fleet Week!