Sequestration may sink Fleet Week.
The annual visit to Fort Lauderdale of a half-dozen Navy warships and thousands of sailors for a week of shore leave and community service could be canceled for the first time in 22 years.
"In light of the fiscal considerations that have been ongoing this year, that is a possibility," Navy spokesman Lt. Cmdr. Brian Badura said Wednesday from Norfolk, Va.
If Fleet Week does stay afloat, it would be in a greatly diminished capacity.
"If it does take place, it will be a smaller Fleet Week than normal," Navy spokeswoman Suzanne Speight said from Jacksonville. "A decision has not totally been made."
Speight said Navy brass should decide by week's end whether, or how, the event will take shape.
Called sequestration, automatic government budget cuts went into effect March 1, and are hitting the military the hardest. The Air Force Thunderbirds, for example, won't participate in the Lauderdale Air Show April 20 and 21 because of the cuts.
For more than two decades, the Navy has called at Port Everglades with various destroyers, missile cruisers, amphibious landing ships and submarines. More than 3,000 sailors have descended on South Florida for shopping, partying and beach time. They have also engaged in competitions and numerous public service projects, such as painting homes and hospital visits.
In recent years the ships, and their crews, have not been as many or as large. Aircraft carriers, for example, no longer participate in Fleet Week.
J.W. Arnold of Broward Navy Days, the event's main local organizer, said Fleet Week is on schedule for April 29 through May 6. "It is on the calendar," he said. "As of right now we have no reason to think it's not going to happen."
But if it does occur, it will be with a reduced complement of warships and sailors.
"The event's definitely going to be smaller in terms of the Navy's participation," said Arnold. Two destroyers, a submarine and a Coast Guard cutter -- all yet unnamed -- will participate if the event occurs, he said. And instead of 2,500 sailors hitting town, there would be about 700.
But organizers are still planning parties, receptions and activities for the sailors. "We're not scaling back," Arnold said.
"Whether it's done in a reduced or diminished capacity, or done at full capacity, we're going to make those sailors feel just as welcome," Fort Lauderdale Mayor Jack Seiler said.
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