Fleet Week 2016 in Fort Lauderdale: Stop Confusing It With the Fort Lauderdale Air & Sea Show

The USS Bataan in the Arabian Gulf.EXPAND
The USS Bataan in the Arabian Gulf.
U.S. Naval Forces Central Command

We know, we know — this week, Fort Lauderdale seems to be crawling with sailors, pilots, skydivers, captains, cooks, deckhands, and engineers, all looking super fly in their uniforms.

That may seem like allllll that matters. 

But there are actually some important distinctions between the Fort Lauderdale Air Show and Fleet Week — two separate events that occur at the same time. 

"That's been one of the hardest issues" to communicate, says J.W. Arnold, spokesperson for Fleet Week. "People tie them together."  

So let's get this straight. Fleet Week is an annual week-long celebration of Navy ships and crew that has been around for 26 years and is run by a nonprofit organization, Broward Navy Days, which gets funding from sponsors. (This year, Humana is the lead sponsor). Six ships are docked at Port Everglades this week, and 13,000 people are scheduled to tour them. Broward's event, along with a Fleet Week in New York, is a pretty big deal for sailors who get a break from their normal duties of protecting the country.  

The Fort Lauderdale Air Show, meanwhile, is a for-profit event. It brings in teams of pilots who fly in formation for the U.S. Air Force and Canadian military, plus private companies.  These military teams are basically marketing tools, designed to show off power and abilities, and maybe recruit some kids. The flight teams spend all summer performing at air shows.  Cool planes will be arriving in Fort Lauderdale throughout this week, with flight displays happening all day Saturday and Sunday over Fort Lauderdale Beach.  

"They're a part of their respective services' public affairs program," Arnold explains. "That's what they do."  That's different from the sailors at Fleet Week, who are "taking a week off of their normal routine. The navy doesn't have a ship just for show."  He says sailors this week will be doing such varied things as visiting schools and hospitals, or doing ride-alongs with the Broward Sheriff's Department if they're interested in law enforcement careers. 

For a few years, between 2001 and 2007, McDonald's sponsored the so-called Air & Sea Show, which tied the events together. "At the old Air & Sea show," Arnold says, "off the beach, hundreds of thousands of people could come down. But that's been gone for seven or eight years. We're back to a traditional Fleet Week." 

Unfortunately, in the wake of 9/11, members of the public have had to pre-register for ship tours and cannot just show up and walk on them. But other events are open to the public, like an awards banquet on Thursday, a "military night" Marlins game on Thursday, a salute to women in the military at the Riverside Hotel, and a "Galley Wars" culinary competition at Allied Kitchen and Bath Saturday night.

Arnold welcomes people to come to these and other events (see the complete schedule here), where they can "meet and greet service members and thank them for their service. They work long hours. They're away from home, away from their families. We want to show an appreciation for their sacrifice."  

But let's face it: We also want to see the hardware.  Fleet Week showcases six ships that are based on the East Coast (but are deployed around the world). No aircraft carriers are on display this week. The coolest ship, Arnold says, is an amphibious assault ship, the USS Bataan — "basically the second-largest type of ship. There's a flight deck on top and hangar. It can hold  tanks and Humvees. Then the back can open up and spit out a hovercraft for beach landings."  

There will also be two Coast Guard cutters, two missile destroyers (including the guided missile destroyer USS Cole, which was attacked in Yemen in 2000, killing 17 American soldiers), and a nuclear submarine, the USS California. If you didn't get tickets, sorry! We'll post pictures! 

Arnold says the climax of the public events is a concert and street party on Saturday with the Navy Band playing at 7:30 p.m., Oakland Park City Hall. 

A junior officers' party Tuesday night at Briny's Irish Pub and a Marine Corps reception at McSorley's Pub on Wednesday night are both private, but if I were single, I might want to hang around about the time they let out. Just sayin'.


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