Fleet Week Kicks Off in NYC

USS New York, made of ground zero steel, returns to city for first time.

By Verena Dobnik and Tracie Strahan
|  Wednesday, May 25, 2011  |  Updated 1:43 PM EDT
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Three thousand sailors, marines and coast guardsmen descend on the city for festivities.

Three thousand sailors, marines and coast guardsmen descend on the city for festivities.

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It's the time of year again for the city to get its sea legs.

As the 24th annual Fleet Week festivities got under way Wednesday with a parade of military vessels sailing up the Hudson River, the U.S. Navy secretary said the reduced number of participating boats this year was a reflection of the Navy's work around the world responding to disasters and conflicts.

The "Parade of Ships" started with nine vessels sailing under the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, up the Hudson to the George Washington Bridge. Among the ships were the USS Iwo Jima and the USS New York, whose hull was forged with 7 and a half tons of steel from the World Trade Center.

Dozens of vessels have participated in past years.

"We are very busy," said U.S. Navy Secretary Ray Mabus.

For example, he said, on a recent single day in March a so-called Navy Strike Group deployed to Afghanistan was moved to Japan to deliver medical assistance to earthquake and tsunami victims. Elsewhere, Navy ships, submarines and helicopters were deployed to Libya to enforce the NATO-enforced no-fly zone while other Navy vessels conducted drug interdictions from the Gulf of Mexico to the Horn of Africa and the South Pacific.

"We're at a much higher operational tempo" than about a decade ago, Mabus said, adding that 3,200 sailors and 2,200 Marines were serving on more than 280 vessels.

Manus and invited guests watched the festivities from a West Side pier near the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum while listening to jazz and enjoying breakfast.

After sailing past the World Trade Center site and other city landmarks, the USS New York, along with three other Navy vessels, headed for a dock on Staten Island. The USS Iwo Jima and three Coast Guard cutters meanwhile docked near the Intrepid.

Myles Post, 46, a retired Navy veteran who developed emphysema and asthma after working at ground zero for 13 months, sat in a wheelchair on the flight deck of the Intrepid waiting for the USS New York to sail by.

"It's depressing but it's good to see that they did something with the ground zero scraps to keep the memory alive," Post said.

Three thousand sailors, marines and coast guardsmen descend on the city for Fleet Week festivities.

At least one of the multitude of Long Island marines returning home said he couldn't wait to set foot in the Big Apple.

"Looking forward to seeing my family, all the good food in New York. I love New York," said First Lt. Glenn Harvey, of Locust Valley, who recently returned from a tour in Afghanistan and is experiencing his first Fleet Week. "Seeing my friends and family, that's what I'm looking forward to most."

While Harvey said his service did involve battle, he said most of it focused on counter-insurgency -- empowering villages to become self-sufficient and independent of the Taliban. Most of the villages have elders, Harvey explained, and once the troops build rapport with them, the villagers tended to accept their presence and their help.

Fleet Week ends on Memorial Day with a military flyover honoring American military personnel who lost their lives in service. 

But there are plenty of cool events scheduled before the soldiers ship out. Check out air and water demonstrations at Pier 86 on Thursday, and the sailors' musical side during Friday's military day in Times Square, featuring the Navy and U.S. Marine Corps band.

The entertainment and outreach continues during Marine Day in Battery Park Sunday.

The public can enjoy ship tours and performances during the six day-celebration and activities aboard the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum.  

For more on Fleet Week activities and the best places to watch the events, click here.

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