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 small number of participating boats reflected how busy the Navy is responding to worldwide disasters and conflicts.
The "Parade of Ships" started with the vessels passing under the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, up the Hudson to the George Washington Bridge. Among the nine were the USS Iwo Jima and the USS New York, whose hull was forged with steel from the World Trade Center.
Missing this year were any historic tall ships or foreign vessels.
"We are very busy," said U.S. Navy Secretary Ray Mabus.
For example, he said, on a recent single day _ March 19 _ the so-called "Strike Group" of the USS Ronald Reagan that once supported U.S. troops in Afghanistan was deployed near Japan to deliver medical assistance to earthquake and tsunami victims. The same day, ships of the USS Essex Amphibious Ready Group provided humanitarian assistance along the Japanese coast.
Elsewhere, U.S. ships and submarines fired Tomahawk cruise missiles at Libya's air defense systems to impose a United Nations-mandated no-fly zone. And still the same day, Navy vessels conducted drug interdictions from the Gulf of Mexico to the Horn of Africa and the South Pacific.
Compared to a decade ago, "we're at a much higher operational tempo," Mabus said. "We stay at sea longer, and there are more sailors deployed."
About 325,000 sailors and 220,000 Marines are serving on more than 280 U.S. vessels around the world, he said.
Mabus 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 four other Navy vessels, headed for a dock on Staten Island. The USS Iwo Jima and three Coast Guard cutters 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.
The USS New York stopped its engines as it passed the World Trade Center site and blew a single whistle, summoning sailors and Marines to "line the rails" and stand at attention. A whistle then blew again for a salute by all.
Fleet Week ends on Memorial Day with a flyover honoring American military personnel who lost their lives in service.
Fleet Week: http://www.intrepidmuseum.org