By Capt. Tom Spink, USN (retired)
As a long-time resident of the San Francisco Bay Area, who also served here in uniform, I wanted to share information about a few of the outstanding outreach events conducted during Fleet Week, Oct. 6-13.
Instituted in 1981 by then-Mayor Dianne Feinstein, San Francisco Fleet Week has provided an opportunity for millions of patriotic citizens to show their appreciation for our sea services by providing the attending Sailors, Marines, and Coast Guardsmen a few days of well-earned liberty. Naval participation in one of our country’s premier festivals assists in educating regional leaders and the general public about the U.S. Navy as an effective element of national defense and a viable career opportunity for young men and women. It also provided an opportunity for naval leaders to conduct humanitarian assistance and disaster response exercises with local agencies and first responders.
Observed by thousands of citizens on the shores near the Golden Gate Bridge, this year’s Parade of Ships included not only U.S. Navy and Coast Guard vessels, but also those of our Canadian allies. As has been the case for many years, the Saint Francis Yacht Club (SFYC) served as the reviewing stage for the Third Fleet Commander, Vice Adm. Kenneth Floyd, and many other senior flag and general officers. They were joined by now-Sen. Feinstein, Mayor Ed Lee, and hosted by the SFYC Commodore, Cmdr. George Dort, USN (retired). He and his wife Rita rolled out the club’s red carpet for a day seeing ships and aircraft, including the Navy’s Flight Demonstration Team, the Blue Angels. The Navy Band provided free concerts throughout the city during the multi-day event.
A special addition to Fleet Week was the commissioning of the Navy’s newest amphibious ship, USS America (LHA 6). Pacific Fleet Commander, Adm. Harry Harris, Jr., spoke about the importance of USS America to the strategic rebalance to the Pacific and introduced Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus, who officially commissioned the ship. Orders were then given by the ship’s sponsor, Mrs. Lynne Pace, to “bring the ship alive.” Several hundred Sailors and Marines ran up the gangway to the flight deck to man the rails. This impressive sight brought an emotional cheer from an audience of more than 9,000 in attendance.
On the final day of Fleet Week and in celebration of the Navy’s 239th birthday, Harris honored a large group of veterans aboard the USS Hornet Museum as their luncheon guest speaker. Two organizations regularly hold luncheons aboard this fabled ship at the former Naval Air Station Alameda, from which her predecessor sailed out in April of 1942 to deliver Col. Jimmy Doolittle’s B-25s to within initial striking distance of Imperial Japan. The Bay Area Tailhook Ready Room and the San Francisco Bay Area Squadron of the Association of Naval Aviation bring veterans from World War II to the present together to learn about current operations from distinguished guest speakers. These groups expand advocacy for Naval Aviation and provide scholarships to dozens of deserving youngsters heading off to college.
It is through our people that the Navy truly speaks to the American public – this is why outreach events like San Francisco Fleet Week are so important.