The guided-missile cruiser Lake Champlain arrives at Burrard Pier in Vancouver, British Columbia on April 26. (Cpl. Michael Bastien / Canadian Forces)
Cavas is a former managing editor of Navy Times and nowcovers naval warfare for Defense News. Email him at ccavasmilitarytimes.com.
Warmer weather in the U.S. brings out a host of military-related festivals, and in recent years, more and more cities around the nation are hosting Fleet Weeks, widely seen as good for morale, serious money-generating events for the hosts, and good publicity for all.
The Navy normally is happy to oblige, sending one, two or as many as a half-dozen warships to bask in public affection.
But not this year. The Big Bad Sequestration Grinch, according to the service, leaves no money for such nonessential events, and the Navy has been canceling ship and aircraft visits left and right.
Even the Navy’s participation in the biggest Fleet Week — New York City’s festival — has been dropped. The service is working hard to make sure local media are fully aware there’ll be little Navy at this year’s event. The underlying message — call your Congressman and let him know sequestration is bad.
And it’s working, with dozens of stories appearing in the mainstream media about the cancellations.
But while Americans won’t see much of their Navy this year, the party still goes on: in festive Canada! Vancouver, British Columbia, hosted an event in late April called Vancouver Port Visit, featuring a number of Canadian warships from the Maritime Forces Pacific base at nearby Esquimalt.
But the Vancouver festival had something a bit more special: a genuine U.S. Navy warship. No less than the Lake Champlain, an Aegis missile cruiser.
The cruiser and its crew of about 330 sailors came up from their home base of San Diego, which will hold its Fleet Week in September. That event is held at the city’s public piers, a short jog up the waterfront from the sprawling 32nd Street Naval Base; despite that, the Navy has announced it will not “reposition” any of its ships to take part.
The Navy noted Lake Champlain’s visit to Vancouver wasn’t the same as “outreach events” like Portland, Ore.’s Rose Festival, Seattle’s SeaFair or Los Angeles’ Navy Days — none of which will see a Navy ship this year.
“USS Lake Champlain’s Vancouver port visit is being conducted in conjunction with their participation in a Canadian-led, bilateral exercise, Trident Fury,” Lt. Lenaya Rotklein, a spokeswoman for the San Diego-based 3rd Fleet, said April 28 in an email.
“During the port visit, the ship and its crew will be participating in pre-exercise coordination meetings with Canadian forces as well as hosting other events that support theater security cooperation,” Rotklein added, accurately pointing out that deployed U.S. ships continue to make port calls.
Still, what a nice coincidence that Vancouver’s party weekend took place around an exercise that included an Aegis cruiser. One wonders why similar exercises couldn’t be scheduled to allow ships to visit SeaFair — just down Elliott Bay from the base at Everett, Wash., and a ferry ride across Puget Sound from Bremerton — or San Diego, where the Navy’s grey-hulled warships daily go right by the public piers to leave and enter the naval base.
But that might send the wrong message. ■