Big ships herald Toledo's Navy Week
ABOARD THE USS HURRICANE — Destroyers, aircraft carriers, and other large warships with crews ranging from hundreds to thousands may snare the most headlines for the Navy, but the United States military's sea-borne branch also has roles for smaller vessels like the one to which Seaman Travis Steer, of Rossford, was assigned after he completed basic training last year.
The USS Hurricane, with a crew of 28, is one of 13 Cyclone-class coastal patrol boats in the Navy that protect harbors, offshore oil platforms, and other coastal infrastructure; defend battle groups against small-vessel threats, and perform anti-piracy and anti-smuggling missions.
Because of its size, the Hurricane — which along with four other vessels sailed Thursday afternoon into Toledo Harbor to get Navy Week into full swing — is the sort of ship where everyone onboard knows, and works with, everyone else, from the most junior seaman right up to the commanding officer. Everyone eats the same food, from the same galley, in the same dining room.
"We take care of each other," said Mr. Steer, who entered boot camp on July 19, 2011. "When we need something done, we get it done. We're one big family."
Promoting all of the Navy's roles and capabilities, not just the high-profile ones, is a big part of what this summer's Navy Week tour of six U.S. cities on the Great Lakes is all about, naval officials said. It's also about naval history, marking the bicentennial of the War of 1812, which was largely fought over naval control of the Great Lakes as well as British interference with American shipping in the Atlantic Ocean.
"What makes it cool about seeing all these towns is that they were all directly involved in that conflict," said PO 2nd Class Dustin Good, temporarily assigned to the Hurricane as its photographer and media specialist and a self-professed "history nut." "Two hundred years ago, the war was fought over freedom of the seas. What was relevant then is what the Navy is doing now."
The Navy Week tour, which started two weeks ago in Chicago and also includes Milwaukee, Cleveland, Detroit, and Buffalo, marks the first visit of Navy ships to the Great Lakes in 12 years. While the Rush-Bagot treaty after the War of 1812 prohibits the operation of warships on the Great Lakes, an exception is provided for training missions as long as American personnel do not carry weapons when leaving their ships in Canadian territory, said Lt. Cmdr. Michael Fortenberry, the Hurricane's captain.
Sailors aboard the Hurricane said the Great Lakes tour was an exceptional opportunity, because so many of their assignments are overseas.
"I'll probably never get another opportunity to go to the Great Lakes," said Michael Kidd, PO 2nd Class. "Going to the Great Lakes is pretty rare in the Navy."
And for a few of the several hundred sailors aboard the Hurricane and the guided-missile frigate USS De Wert, the trip up the Maumee River was more than just a tour stop — it was also a homecoming.
From the De Wert, PO 1st Class Joshua Snyder, a Springfield High School graduate, walked down the gangplank into the delighted arms of his grandmother, Lola Urbanski, to whom he delivered the happy news that he would be on leave until Sunday.
"I'm still shocked," she said several minutes later. Her pastor, the Rev. Robert Fry of Heritage Church of God in Maumee, drove her downtown. She was eager for her grandson's homecoming, but "I didn't know he'd get to go home with me."
Petty Officer Snyder, who has been in the Navy since 2000 and who has 4-year-old twins, Lily and Lana, with his wife, Hannah, said that when he saw Toledo Mayor Mike Bell board his ship, "I started feeling I was closer to home. It was a weird feeling. Weird, but good."
Christie Zapiecki waited with other relatives and friends at the De Wert's One Maritime Plaza docking spot for her son, Petty Officer 3rd Class Michael Zapiecki, 22, to disembark.
"He just happens to be coming in to our hometown. It's very cool," said his mother, who traveled from Clearwater, Fla., for her son's return to Toledo. Petty Officer Zapiecki moved from Toledo to Florida when he was 9, and many relatives still live here. His mother made a vow: "If he's coming to Toledo, I'm coming too."
And waiting for nearly five hours in International Park for the Hurricane were Jeff Steer, Travis' Navy-veteran father, and numerous other relatives and friends.
"I'm very proud," the elder Mr. Steer said. "I was excited, definitely, for him to follow in my footsteps, to get a chance to see the world."
The younger Mr. Steer, meanwhile, said one of the pluses of the Navy Week tour is witnessing the public's enthusiasm for what he does.
"You don't realize how much people support you" until you travel away from military-heavy cities like his ship's home port in Norfolk, he said, while Navy Week offers the public a chance "to see what being in the Navy is actually like."
Hundreds of people lined the Maumee River on Thursday afternoon to watch the De Wert, U.S. Brig Niagara, U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Mobile Bay, the Hurricane, and HMCS Ville de Quebec — like the De Wert, a guided-missile frigate — sail proudly into downtown Toledo. Even workers on one of two railroad swing-bridges through which the flotilla passed snapped pictures.
The Niagara, the 1980s-vintage reconstruction of Comm. Oliver Hazard Perry's victorious Battle of Lake Erie relief flagship, will offer public visits today only. The active-duty Navy and Coast Guard vessels will have public tours today through Sunday. A broad schedule of special receptions and Navy-oriented events, including Navy and Marine Corps band concerts, also is on tap.
Dozens of local dignitaries were bused to Detroit early Thursday to sail back to Toledo, including Mayor Mike Bell and his parents, Norman and Ora Bell; Lucas County Sheriff James Telb; Toledo police Chief Derrick Diggs; Toledo fire Chief Luis Santiago; former Toledo fire Chief Michael Wolever; several members of the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority board, and Joseph H. Zerbey IV, president and general manager of The Blade.
"It was unbelievable," said Mr. Bell, who professed never having been on a Navy ship before. "It helped me realize how much a Navy crew worked as a team. It will be a good education tool for people in the Midwest, and a city like Toledo, to realize how powerful our Navy is."
Bob Kroeger of Defiance, district commander of the VFW, greeted the mayor and handed him a commemorative pin. Mr. Kroeger, who was in the Navy for more than 22 years, came to the De Wert's landing in the hopes of finding sailors from northwest Ohio who might be aboard. He also handed a pin to Petty Officer Snyder.
From shore, Evan Stigall, 9, gazed admiringly on the De Wert.
"I think I like it," he said. He and his grandmother, Henrietta Jackson, were a bit disappointed, though, that tours were not offered on Thursday. The fourth grader at Old Orchard School says he'd like to join the Coast Guard after seeing the television program, Coast Guard Alaska.
Eight young cadets of the Naval Sea Cadet Corps, a youth organization sponsored by the U.S. Navy and stationed in Toledo, also came to see the ships and help with the docking of the ship Niagara.
"Our cadets can go aboard and interact with sailors. Their goal is to get a feel for what the Navy's like," said Dean Moeller, a lieutenant commander.
Jack Petersen of Toledo came to see the ships to pay homage to his father, Svend A. Petersen. Originally from Denmark, the elder Mr. Petersen served as a machinist aboard the USS Augusta, an Allied flagship during the World War II Normandy invasion.
But the little ships also deserve credit, said Petty Officer Good, who normally works from the carrier USS George H.W. Bush.
"These guys are all guts and no glory — they're some of the hardest-working people in the Navy," he said of the Hurricane's crew.
Young seamen like Mr. Steer, he added, will be the Navy's future leaders.
"On these smaller ships, they have the opportunity to advance," agreed Lee Armstrong, executive director of the Lucas County Veterans' Service Commission, who was one of a few visitors who chose the Hurricane for their sail to Toledo. "They're doing the work of about 50 people, and they have cross-training opportunities."
Staff writers Mark Zaborney and Liyan Chen contributed to this report.