Fleet Week up close: PIX11 takes you aboard

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NEW YORK — Wednesday begins six days of naval ships, sailors and marines all along the shores of New York Harbor. However, the most thorough way to experience Fleet Week 2016 is to actually be out on the ships is the fleet. PIX11 gives a unique preview of many onboard surprises that visitors to the ships will experience when they go between now and Memorial Day.

The Navy airlifted a PIX11 crew out to the flight deck of the USS Bataan early Wednesday morning, to get the full experience of sailing from the open sea nearly 40 miles out from New York Harbor to the place that a fair number of sailors and marines aboard the amphibious ship hail from: the City of New York.

"Ever since I was in 4th grade," said Petty Officer and Brooklyn native Aaron Mull, "I dreamed about aircraft. Now I'm working on them."

He said that his brother and his cousin are also active duty Navy sailors, as were his father and uncle.

Ironically, though, none of the native New Yorker sailors that PIX11 encountered had ever traveled to New York Harbor onboard a ship, until Wednesday.

Seaman Manuela Villa, who hails from Paterson, New Jersey, said that being back in the New York metro area was like a double family reunion for her. "My [actual] family meeting my family-on-the boat, it's a good feeling," she told PIX11 News.

Wednesday had perfect weather for a sail into New York, in contrast to other conditions this ship can be under.

"Imagine the water coming over the rail," said E-6 Jessica Lopez, who's originally from Roosevelt New York, regarding storm conditions the Bataan endures frequently. "Imagine walking on the walls because the boat is going side to side."

Those kinds of conditions don't stop the massive operations and facilities on board.

On its flight deck, which takes up about two acres, the Bataan is a landing pad for potentially more than a half dozen vertical landing aircraft, such as helicopters and Osprey heliplanes.

There are two massive decks below that are so spacious they easily fit huge pieces of heavy equipment, including up to three hovercraft, called LCATs, and the armored vehicles, amphibious attack craft and other box truck-size vehicles that the hovercraft transport onto and off of the ship.

PIX11 got to see firsthand that the pilot cabins of the hovercraft are open for tours, complete with an invitation to sit in the pilot's chair and handle the steering wheel.

Many other sections of the Bataaan, as well as those of the half dozen other U.S. and Canadian naval vessels in the Fleet Week flotilla, are open for tours, free of charge, through the holiday on Monday. After all, the public is paying for the warships to operate.

They sailed into the harbor slowly, under the Verrazano Narrows Bridge, and past the Statue of Liberty and the World Trade Center. At both of the latter two sites, the entire crew of each vessel stood at salute.

Then, the Bataan anchored at the pier adjacent to the USS Intrepid, on West 47th Street.

The Bataan's current mission is R & R in New York City, as well as one more -r: a return home, for many aboard.

"I've been all over the world," said Systems Technician First Class Takeem Lamberth, a 16-year veteran from South Jamaica, Queens, "but New York is the best place in the world for me."

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