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Fleet Week NYC 2017 -- Aboard LHD-3 the USS Kearsarge

Posted on July 10, 2017 at 10:26 PM
Proud Trustworthy Bold – those are the words that make up the motto of the USS Kearsarge (LHD-3), one of the US Navy’s Wasp-class amphibious assault ships.

LHD-3 was my “home” for most of one amazing morning, at the invitation of the US Navy to join a variety of VIPs to experience the New York City Fleet Week processional parade from the waters off Long Island, into New York Harbor and all the way to docking on Manhattan’s West Side on the Hudson River.

I was with the men and women crew of the USS Kearsarge for about seven hours.  During that time period, I saw first-hand how they live their motto – no doubt I experienced their pride during my visit. Yes, I sensed I was in good hands (they were totally trustworthy), and I’ve never seen a Navy man or woman that wasn’t bold in the true sense of the word.

An Early Start

My lucky day started at NYC’s Wall Street heliport at 5:00am.  The Navy said I should report there and be ready to fly out to the USS Kearsarge.   So with a light rain falling, I walked from hotel at 445am to join a group of about 40 VIPs, waiting in the drizzle for what promised to be a great day.  As I walked down to the helipad on the East River, I could hear the sounds of turbine helicopter engines.  I’ve landed many times in corporate helicopters on at this particular helipad, and I’ve watched US Presidents arrive there as well.  But there is nothing like the sound of Sea Dragon and Sea Hawk helicopters – I knew my ride was waiting.

An efficient check in process, then a security inspection and soon I was in a standard-issue Navy flight life jacket and ear protection.   And, quickly, we were walked to the helicopters and under spinning blades for our 20 minute flight to the deck of the USS Kearsarge.   

These helicopters were being used for Fleet Week support and had come in from Norfolk, and I watched with pride and fascination as we were loaded, seated and secured for the flight out of NYC, over Governor’s Island to the deck of LHD-3.  At almost 900 feet long, it’s a big flight deck.

Ready to Demonstrate Navy Pride

Even at 6:15am, this ship was awake with activity.  Everyone had something to do, and the crew of men and women were getting ready to show off the Navy Pride – crisp uniforms of both the Navy and Marines were evident, as the USS Kearsarge would be the key ship in a procession of vessels for Fleet Week’s parade of ships. 

We were welcomed by the ships officers and taken to the hanger deck – itself getting ready for the evenings banquet, and thus began a 2-hour tour of the ship’s key spaces.  A LHD ship is designed to support a variety of amphibious assault missions.  Up top, the flight deck supports helicopter operations for the Navy and Marines – with attack helicopters like the MH60, Vertical TakeOff and Landing Harrier Jets, and V22 Opry aircraft.   

Just underneath, the hanger deck supports aircraft storage and maintenance.  

Ramps lead down to the well deck – an area that provides support for the operation of air cushion landing craft – which launch from an area that is flooded with sea water – these “hovercraft” literally move of the ship, carrying troopers, trucks, and supplied to dry land.  The ability of this 41,000 ton ship to operate across air, sea and transport missions is impressive. 

Parade of Ships

After our tour and a cup of the Navy’s finest black coffee, it was off to the flight deck for the Parade of Ships.  Entering New York Harbor this was is indeed impressive, and involves sailing under North America’s most impressive suspension bridge – The Verrazano, which connects Staten Island and Long Island.  We just barely fit, and suddenly we were sailing into New York’s harbor.   To start the parade, many of the ship’s more than 1900 sailors and 1000 marines began to march from the hanger deck and position themselves along the edge of the flight deck.  Standing a few feet apart in formation, these young men and women were ready to show off for the Navy – and in their stark white and also tan uniforms, their display was impressive.

Our parade of ships took about three hours, and it gave me a chance to walk the length of the flight deck and visit with many of these young men and women.  Like my last US Navy experience, I found these young people to be super proud of their roles, excited to visit NYC, and especially willing to talk about serving their country.   Most were around 20-25 years old, from all corners of the US.  I met cooks, riflemen, radio operators, and mechanics – all kinds of people in all kinds of roles.  And to a sailor and Marine – they had one thing in common:  They were all super proud to be on the USS Kearsarge, and to be serving our great nation through their work in both the Navy and Marines.  (One personal note:  it was a cold morning, and the wind was blowing.  These young men and women were cold -- in light summer uniforms, short sleeves -- shivering was evident -- NOBODY complained.  They were proud to be arriving in NYC, excited about Fleet Week, and excited to show off for New York.)

An Unexpected Visit

Amazingly, on this huge flight deck, among two thousand personnel and visitors, I ran into the former Captain of the USS Carl Vinson, the aircraft carrier I had the honor of visiting in 2014.  I had flown to the aircraft carrier off the coast of Mexico as the ship and crew were training for deployment in the Middle East.  At the time, the ship was commanded by Capt. Kent Whalen, and here he was standing on the flight deck of LDH-3.  I re-introduced myself to Commander Whalen, and we visited together, as the USS Kearsarge sailed toward the Verrazano Bridge – what a pleasant surprise!

Saluting with Pride

During our sail into New York Harbor, the crew of the USS Kearsarge acknowledged three different special locations.  At first, the crew came to attention, and held their salute as we passed by Fort Hamilton on Long Island.  The crew also came to attention to salute the Statute of Liberty as we passed by that icon of New York Harbor.   And lastly, the crew saluted as we sailed past the site of the 9/11 disaster in Lower Manhattan.  That was a special and somber moment for sure

Docking in Manhattan

Eventually, the USS Kearsarge approached mid-town Manhattan on the Hudson River.  As the procession of ships sailed past us, our giant ship (too big to proceed up the river) prepared to dock at Pier 88, right next to the USS Intrepid museum.  Despite her impressive size, the USS Kearsarge officers and crew slowly turned the huge ship and positioned her for a simple, smooth and efficient docking against Pier 88 and our time to leave the ship had arrived. To be fair, LHD-3 is a HUGE ship, and she towered over the USS Intrepid museum, and even further towered over both Pier 88 and the nearby West Side Highway. 

The Navy Continues to Amaze Me

You might ask – how did you get to take this amazing journey for Fleet Week?  As a communications professional, I continue to be impressed at the Navy’s ability to provide VIP access to their ships and personnel to people who can spread the word about Navy pride, mission and service.   Once again, I came way tremendously impressed at the personnel who make the military mission possible.  And, like on my last Navy visit, I was so amazed at how young and committed the sailors and Marines really are.  Their pride in service, in their mission, and in their service to our country was so evident.  I’ve been showing pictures of my Navy visits to everyone I meet, and have been talking about my visits the USS Carl Vinson and USS Kearsarge everywhere I go – in person and on social media.  I’ve been following these ships in the news since my visit, and will continue to do so where ever they take the Navy mission.

Back to Normal

Perhaps the most unusual aspect of the day was as I walked out of the security zone at Pier 88 to head to the subway and leave NYC.  You walk out the gates, take ond last look at this amazing ship, and suddenly you are just another citizen walking the streets of NYC (just like everyone else), and struck by how luck  you were to be a part of something special. 
I waited a few weeks to create this blog about Fleet Week NYC.  I had started the blog and was ready to post it, when the USS Fitzgerald had its unfortunate collision near Japan, and seven sailors were killed on board.   That tragedy kept me from posting about Fleet Week, and I’m thinking about the crew of the USS Fitzgerald tonight as I write this post. 

Part of what is so amazing about the Navy is that those ships are out there, on the seas around the world, protecting the freedoms we hold so dear, so that our great country (and the world) can remain free and strong.  We sometimes forget that thousands of these young men and women are on duty every day of the year while we go about our regular everyday lives.  We are fortunate to have their service – and, like the motto of the USS Kearsarge reads -- have their trustworthy service, their bold action, and, most importantly, their pride in country.

My great thanks to the US Navy for this great opportunity.

For more information on Fleet Week NYC and the USS Kearsarge, see these great stories:

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