Fleet Week 2014: The Fun Has Returned!

[This is a belated post on all the good things occurring during a holiday weekend in New York.]

selfiewithasailor3

Every year around Memorial Day Weekend wonderful things tend to happen in this city. Usually, it starts warming up and beach season is called out for the last weekend of May (I said usually, not always, and unfortunately not this year). Then, people get together to grab a hotdog or Read More »

Fleet Week 2012 OR A Tour of the USS Wasp


Fleet Week in New York has been over for a good week now already. Time to get this post on before it will be entirely forgotten in the fogginess of my brain.

As in last year (read more here), thousands of navy guys, marines, and coast guard folks came swimming sailing full winds into the City. An average of 6,000 people in uniforms roamed the streets of the Big Apple this year. In 2011 I had been working closer to their ships, so 8th Avenue had been populated with them fairly soon. This year I got to see these three exotics walking past the Empire State Building on 5th Ave towards the Flatiron District.

Air shows over New Jersey and Coney Island, community and park events in Staten Island and Brooklyn, scheduled parades all over the city and state of New York – there has been a fair amount going on in those sweet six days of Fleet Weekishness. All of which I had missed out on, due to work and other beach plans.

Never mind, though, as Sunday was the day I decided to regain responsibility and finally take on Fleet Week 2012. While last year I had strolled Times Square and been part of the music-eager crowd listening to random navy pals giving mediocre but fun concerts, this year I headed towards the Hudson River. Pier 90, right on 55th St and 12th Avenue, is the spot at which you will walk past the Intrepid and see many of the fleet week boats in harbor – ready to be boarded by the average New Yorkers and other tourists. It was about 3 o’clock in the afternoon. I didn’t have much of a choice so I just rowed myself into a random never-ending line, which closed down shortly after (lucky me). As I found out, it belonged to the queue leading to the popular USS Wasp: The ninth one to date and proudly commemorating its eight battle stars earned in WWII.

I usually wouldn’t recommend anyone standing in line for a full 1 ½ hours in the May heat just to get a peak of what’s happening onboard the Navy liner. But in this case it was worth it. I had always been excited to check out what exactly can be found on those boats and after 90 mins of standing, waiting, and drinking tons of water, I was reimbursed for my hard efforts.

We were first seen over a bridge towards the inside belly of the ship. Past the tanks built up in the body and past a wonderfully selected buffet meant for Navy officers and guest list attendees. Up a steep, steep hill (could be dangerous when walking down again) to the events hosted outside under the blue sky. Colorful flags everywhere. Groups of Navy guys and pilots waiting to tell you more about their job. Helicopters you could climb on and get to know the story behind. All of this conveyed with the beautiful Manhattan skyline in the background.

First I just took pictures. Then I went forward and climbed a helicopter. The pilot told me how it had taken him three years to complete the training until he was able to fly this toy. After looking at all the switches and knobs, I wouldn’t doubt the fact that it could take up to a year to understand only the technical part. After entering a small airplane and putting on the seatbelts that wrapped around my entire upper body, I was impressed. A private event must have been hosted later-on in the evening, as a hundred white chairs were neatly arrayed at the far end of the ship and a guy in a white uniform was desperately trying to get the microphone to shut off.

After the stint outside, I managed to crawl get down the steep hill without incident and to check out what was going on downstairs. I stopped to ask a Navy girl if they really had to march down like this every day and she said, yes, unfortunately, but running was prohibited. Good for them, I can see how accidents might happen!

Different sorts of tanks and guns were built up in the body of the ship. Young Marines were explaining how the ball got inside the machine and was catapulted out again. The technical talk on how to kill an enemy might have seemed heartless or shocking to bystanders listening, but then they never grew up with the military and got to see the other facets of this type of life.

Everyone was friendly and eager to help us out if we had questions regarding certain machines or tasks. Especially the Navy officers on the USS Wasp were very forthcoming and seemed to enjoy their day with the normal crowds that had come to the city to see how our wars are fought.

Fleet Week 2012: It always brings this special vibe and national pride to New York – quite astonishing to see how it unravels. One short week of uniformed sailors marching through the streets, and I wish I had done more with it this time. Oh well, I guess I just have to wait it out until next year when it is once again Fleet Week in NYC!

[To see more pictures on Fleet Week, go to Fleet Week 2012 (Round 1) and Fleet Week 2012 (Round 2).]

New York City Fleet Week – May 25 to June 1, 2011

Marines holding random guy

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.

Pier 88
Not the USS Iwo Jima but the impressive Intrepid.

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!