The streets of New York this week weren't just filled with the usual tourists. Men and women representing the US Navy, Marines and Coast Guardsmen invaded Manhattan and the outer boroughs in a more peaceful 'shore leave' from May 20-26 for the 22nd annual Fleet Week. Armed with their point-and-shoot cameras, the sailors stroll into Times Square in pairs and in groups and tried to melt with the tourist crowd. More often, they find themselves the tourist attraction as random people on the streets took photos of them just as I merrily did this morning on a sunny Memorial Day.
Meanwhile, the ships docked at Stapleton Pier in Staten Island and Pier 88 in Manhattan get huge crowds of curious visitors lining up to get a look inside. I've been on the USS Intrepid which is of course now a floating museum but I've never been on something so big that's still being used in active combat. This morning, we enthusiastically queued to visit the USS Iwo Jima (LHD-7), a 40,500-ton amphibious assault ship that saw action during Operation Iraqi Freedom and served to support relief operations in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.
Once inside the ship, the display of war armaments immediately grabbed our attention. Kids and adults alike were all wide-eyed viewing, touching, and getting inside armored vehicles and holding various firearms that thankfully are not armed. At the flight deck, we were awed as well with the display of an assortment of helicopters and AV-8B Harrier II aircraft. Pilots, Marines and sailormen at their designated stations were all happy to answer questions and oblige for a photo shoot. For the American public, Fleet Week provided the perfect opportunity to know more about the maritime services rendered in times of war and peace. For the service members, it's R & R time again!