YOKOSUKA, Japan – Twenty Five Navy commands from the United States and Japan participated in the first Fleet Week Japan held virtually May 26 - 31.
Hosted by Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) and U.S. Naval Forces Japan (CNFJ), it also joined forces with Fleet Week New York to highlight a special relationship between the two countries. In 1960, Tokyo was the first city to be recognized by New York City as a sister city.
"The purpose is for our Sailors to continue to build upon our relationship, and grow stronger through friendship and shared experiences," said JMSDF Yokosuka District Commandant Vice Adm. Ryo Sakai.
Typically during a fleet week, military ships make port calls and crews give ship tours and interact with the general public on liberty and through community engagement events. COVID-19 restrictions over the last year put significant constraints on the ability of sea services to show up to cities looking to host a fleet week.
Last year, Fleet Week New York delivered a virtual celebration of sea services through social media to engage and educate the local public. With a naval presence spread throughout Japan, CNFJ and JMSDF looked for ways to tell stories about service in Japan and engage others about what it’s like at sea.
"We are so proud to have the opportunity to celebrate Japan’s inaugural fleet week together,” said CNFJ Commanding Officer Rear Adm. Brian Fort. “This was a fun week of interactive challenges that recognized some of the physical rigors of life at sea."
To give the general public in Japan and New York City an idea of physicality of shipboard life, Fort and Sakai issued a fitness challenge to climb or run/walk the distance of several iconic landmarks from both locations. Sailors aboard ships climb hundreds of stairs each day. The Fleet Week Japan – Fleet Week New York Navy Sea Legs Fitness Challenge encouraged all to participate and post about their experience through social media.
The fitness challenge motivated several commands and base organizations to participant as a group. One of those commands was Commander Submarine Group Seven (CSG7).
CSG7 Commanding Officer Rear Adm. Butch Dollaga expressed excitement in supporting both fleet weeks in a video posted of their participation and his support had personal meaning based on his family heritage.
“Not only is it fitting that we are joining hands with our great allies, the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force, for these fleet week challenges, but we’re doing it during Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month,” said Dollaga. “Being a first generation Filipino American, this month is special to me. I learned resilience and courage from my family and teamwork and leadership from the United States submarine force...Shout out to Fleet Week Japan – Fleet Week New York Navy Sea Legs Challenge from Submarine Group Seven, Hooyah Submarine Group Seven!”
Close to 600 participants shared their experiences on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn. Overall, the fitness challenge and other fleet week content had a Twitter reach of 1.8 million and Facebook reach of almost 300,000.
“First of all, the sea leg challenge on the first day is completed. Completed both the first day's challenge, ‘Climb the stairs (350 steps) equivalent to the height of the Statue of Liberty’ and ‘Complete the length of the Brooklyn Bridge (1.77 km) by running/walking.’ I'm very grateful because it's okay at night,” tweeted @Hound_7.
Sailors from guided-missile destroyer USS Mustin (DDG 89) and JMSDF Yokosuka District completed two of the fitness challenges together before enjoying a meal to celebrate each country’s nautical traditions.
The support of Fleet Week New York had personal meaning for Mustin leadership. The ship’s commanding officer, executive officer and command master chief are all from New York state and shared stories online about the impact fleet weeks had on them before joining the military.
Cmdr. Robert Briggs, Mustin’s commanding officer, felt participation in Fleet Week Japan would allow his crew to showcase the best of New York and Japan. "The strength of our alliance is not in the weapon systems, but in our relationships," said Briggs. "It's in the friendships we're able to forge working alongside and learning from each other."
Sailors from the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76), amphibious assault ship USS America (LHA 6), and amphibious dock landing ship USS Germantown (LSD 42) gave virtual tours of their work centers onboard.
Ronald Reagan Sailors shared several videos and graphics giving viewers a glimpse of the physical rigor required to get around a massive aircraft carrier and encouraged those at home to complete one of the fitness challenges.
Videos received encouraging messages on their Facebook page. Comments included “Just seen my Sailor. I’m so excited,” “those ladderwells are killers,” and “been there done that. Also climbed to the top of the mast to change the running light bulbs.”
Commander, U.S. Naval Forces Japan/Navy Region Japan acts as the Navy representative and coordinator in their area of responsibility, executes shore installation management, and promotes operability and is a liaison with the Japan Maritime Self Defense Force.