Derrick Johnson has made a career (21 years) in the U.S. Navy. Currently a master chief electronics technician, Johnson is stationed on the USS Iwo Jima and has traveled all over the world.
But one of Johnson's favorite docking destinations is New York City at the end of May. That's when the city opens up its arms, and hearts, to thousands of U.S. Navy, Coast Guard and Marine personnel as part of Fleet Week. Fleet Week started in 1984, and allows servicemembers to tour the city as honored guests, while civilians get the opportunity to tour many of the ships.
American Legion Post 2001, whose home is on the USS Intrepid Air and Space Museum, is a big part of Fleet Week, hosting receptions and dinners, and providing tickets to various New York iconic activities such as Yankee games and Broadway shows.
For Johnson - a 15-year member of Legion Post 327 in Norfolk, Va. - 2010 was his fifth Fleet Week. On June 1, the final day of Fleet Week activities, Johnson joined 74 other Navy personnel and 15 Coast Guardsmen during Post 2001's NCO Reception at The Water Club restaurant along the East River.
"If our ship gets selected for Fleet Week, I get so excited," Johnson said. "This is the second time I've been to this event, and they really treat us well. What people do for us during Fleet Week shows us that people recognize what we're doing, and that they care about what we're doing. They're willing to open up their places of business to us and shell out some of their own money. It makes us feel like we're doing something - something good. And that the public sees we're doing something good."
Master Chief Machinery Repairman Rich Smith, stationed on the USS Philippine Sea, is coming up on the end of a 30-year Navy career, but this year was his first Fleet Week. He also attended Post 2001's NCO Reception.
"Seeing all of this gives each of our sailors a chance to see what we're fighting for," Smith said. "It's really been a great experience for me personally."
Later that evening, The Water Club hosted 75 officers from the Fleet Week ships at Post 2001's Commanding Officers Reception. Shrimp cocktail and fresh oysters, carved beef tenderloin, and an impressive array of meats and cheeses lined the serving tables, thanks in part to the generous donations of James G. Kennedy & Co., a multi-million dollar construction management and general contracting firm based in New York City. Roger M. Norton, CEO of the firm, is a past Post 2001 commander. Norton says Post 2001's involvement goes back much further than his tenure as CEO of the firm - back to when Post 2001 was known as Post 1870 and was based out of the Downtown Athletic Club in New York City.
James G. Kennedy & Co.'s founder, James G. Kennedy Sr., was also one of the founders of Post 1870. Kennedy's son and successor at the construction firm, James Kennedy Jr., also became heavily involved in the post, and Norton said through their various business contacts they were able to help the post prosper financially. Hosting the receptions during Fleet Week, Norton said, is simply a continuation of the Kennedy's involvement with the post.
U.S. Navy Rear Adm. Michelle Howard, commander of Expeditionary Strike Group (ESG) 2, was one of the guests at the evening reception and took the time to publicly thank everyone involved with Fleet Week.
"We truly have a wonderful week. We literally have people coming up to us, patting us on the back. It's like coming home the first weekend of college and mom's taking care of you," Howard said. "Fleet Week has been that way, and it's because of every single one of you. You represent all of the citizens of New York and New Jersey. We get on the way tomorrow, but we take away terrific memories, and that's because of you."