Sailors get that sinking feeling after Fleet Week falls victim to budget cuts
Navy personnel left 'disappointed' after events across US cancelled in wake of Defense Department's $450bn budget cuts
Matt Williams; guardian.co.uk, Friday 12 April 2013 17.49 BSTt
Fleet Week has been sunk – and the sequester is to blame. Federal budget cuts have forced the cancellation of shore-leave events around the US that traditionally feature throngs of uniformed sailors taking over restaurants and bars.
Events in New York, San Francisco, San Diego and Fort Lauderdale have fallen victim to the cuts, a result of Congress's inability to reach a fiscal deal by the end of 2012. The Department of Defense's budget was cut by $450bn, and in order to find the savings, the Pentagon has cancelled many of its outreach programs.
Fleet Week is a tradition that dates back to 1935, when the first event was held in San Diego. New York has hosted the largest event in recent years: last year six US Navy, three Coast Guard vessels and 12 coalition boats were stationed around Manhattan and Staten Island.
Beth Baker, public affairs director for the navy's mid-Atlantic region, said service personnel would be disappointed. "They love the event; it's the highlight of the year for many people. It's fair to say that they are disappointed."
As well as being a useful recruitment drive tool for the navy, Fleet Week serves as a chance for the American public to see at first-hand how the military budget is spent. But the events come at a cost: last year's event in New York cost the Pentagon between $7m to $10m.
Baker said that all outreach events that incurred extra costs were being withdrawn. She said: "No branch of the armed forces may participate in community relations or outreach events that come at additional cost to the government or rely on anything other than local assets and personnel. We will follow that direction to include participation in Fleet Weeks."
Other events cancelled as a result of the Pentagon guidance include air shows by the display team the Blue Angels.
The navy is still working with the New York Mayor's office and other private organisations to salvage some events planned for this year's Memorial Day weekend.
But it would appear that the annual influx of uniformed sailors into the city will not take place.
Andrew Rigie, executive director of the NYC Hospitality Alliance – a body that represents the city's vibrant bar and nightlife community – said: "Fleet Week is an opportunity for NYC bars to serve some of America's bravest and also an opportunity for NYC's lively bar scene.
"Many women love a man in uniform and it encourages them to come out and celebrate – it is great for business.
He added: "Hopefully our friends in Washington can ensure that next year NYC has as vibrant a Fleet Week as we have had in recent years."