SM PIER — Hey there, sailor.
For the first time in almost two decades, Santa Monica will take part in a week-long celebration of the men in white when 4,400 active duty sailors descend on Los Angeles County for a schedule of public relations events and well-deserved R&R.
Between 200 and 300 members of the crew of USS Abraham Lincoln will disembark in Long Beach and, on Sunday, July 31, spend a day in Santa Monica.
The ship returned to its home base in Everett, Wash. after a six-month deployment in the Persian Gulf before coming to Southern California, Chief Anthony Briggs, spokesperson for the Navy, wrote in an e-mail.
The visit is part of Navy Week, an annual event that usually includes a single ship of active-duty sailors fresh off of a tour of duty.
It comes at the request of City Councilman Bob Holbrook, who specifically requested the presence of the seamen after seeing a similar event hosted in Malibu in June.
“Quite by accident, I had a conversation with a member of the Navy League,” Holbrook told fellow elected officials at the July 12 council meeting, and requested that $6,000 of contingency funding go to cover direct costs to City Hall and the Pier Restoration Corporation.
Holbrook raised the matter one time before during the budget study sessions at the end of May to gauge the council’s interest in co-producing an event similar to Malibu’s Navy Day, which took place in early June.
The USS John Paul Jones docked offshore and 270 sailors disembarked for a day of revelry in the beachside town.
Holbrook wanted a chance to offer up Santa Monica-style hospitality, and reached out to Grant Ivey, president of the local chapter of the Navy League of the United States, an all-volunteer group that’s scheduling the week’s worth of events.
According to Jim Harris, deputy director of the Pier Restoration Corporation and pier historian, the Navy used to visit Santa Monica on a regular basis, when the pier had the infrastructure for ships to dock.
After a destructive storm in the 1980s that laid waste to one-third of the pier, it was rebuilt, but without the capacity to invite boats and shuttle sailors from pier to vessel, Harris said.
The offer to return to Santa Monica was much appreciated, Ivey said.
In the past, Navy Week consisted of one ship’s worth of sailors touring the county.
This year is different.
Navy officials informed Ivey that instead of the usual one, four ships would be docking at Long Beach, and they would need to find things to do for quadruple the number of troops, all itching for a chance to get off the boat and enjoy a summery week in Los Angeles.
“He called me up and said, ‘How do we do this?’” Ivey said. “I said, ‘Funny that you ask. We have 4,400 sailors in San Pedro and we’d like to show them L.A.’”
Ivey found out about the change between two and three months ago. He and fellow volunteers began to scramble to put together events spread throughout the geographic region that could accommodate the sheer number of sailors that would be arriving in July.
They put together public tours of the ships, speaking engagements, volunteer opportunities feeding the homeless and fun days in theme parks like Disneyland and Knotts Berry Farm.
Santa Monica will be the capstone on the week for the members of the USS Abraham Lincoln, an aircraft carrier capable of launching as many as four aircraft every minute.
Sailors will kick off their stay with a rock concert on the Santa Monica Pier, performed by the Navy’s rock band, The Destroyers. During the concert, the official Navy parachute team, the Leapfrogs, will land in the middle of the pier parking lot, Harris said.
They will then have free time in the town, and leave that evening.
After they leave Santa Monica, the sailors will return to their home ports to continue their maintenance and training cycles to prepare for their next scheduled deployment or other contingency operations they might be asked to complete, Briggs wrote.
To rock out with The Destroyers, stop by the pier at 10 a.m. on Sunday, July 31. The Leapfrogs will make their entrance approximately halfway through, Ivey said.