Not that old navy

Celebrate Navy Week at Dayton Airport June 13-19

By Don Hurst

The last time Ohio was the focal point for any naval engagement was September 10, 1813, when American ships threw down with the British in the Battle of Lake Erie. It’s not surprising then that a Google search of “Dayton” and “Navy” brings up the Old Navy store in the Dayton Mall. The Miami River doesn’t lend itself to aircraft carriers and submarines. Nothing about Dayton’s history marks it as a “Navy Town.”

Which is why Dayton is the perfect place to host Navy Week, according to U.S. Navy Lieutenant Commander Leon Moore. Moore grew up in the Dayton area and is excited to show his hometown what the navy is all about.

“Navy Week Dayton is designed to educate the public on what we do, how does it feel to go to sea for six months, how does the Navy contribute to national security and prosperity, what new technologies the Navy has,” Moore says.

The Navy specifically selects cities that do not have a lot of exposure to maritime military. This year, they are visiting such land-locked locations like Phoenix, Milwaukee and Des Moines.

From June 13 to 19, Dayton will become a Navy Town. Almost 100 separate outreach events are scheduled throughout the Miami Valley. Sailors will volunteer at local food banks. Instructors will drive in mobile STEM hands on learning labs to teach local youth groups how science and technology make the world a safer place. The Blue Angels stunt flying team is even making an appearance at the Vectren Dayton Air Show.

When most people think about jobs in the Navy, they probably picture Navy Seals, submarine captains and something about swabbing a poop deck. What surprises people is that the Navy employs a lot of sailors who are full-time musicians. Cincinnati native Lieutenant Gregory Fritz from the Navy Band Northeast is one of those musicians.

Fritz began his career with U.S. Navy boot camp followed by six months of intensive band training. Then, he served in Italy for three years and traveled to over 20 countries as a goodwill ambassador. “Music really is the universal language,” Fritz says. “It breaks the ice before tense diplomatic negotiations.”

While there shouldn’t be any tense diplomatic negotiations in Dayton, there will be lots of music. The band has free performances scheduled at Riverscape MetroPark in Dayton and at Kettering’s Fraze Pavilion. “Some people think all we play is patriotic, military marches, but that’s not the case,” Fritz says. A Navy musician has to be versatile with excellent sight-reading skills. On any given day, they can be called to play jazz, classical, Dixieland, rock and roll and even classical. “We can do it all,” Fritz says.

Audiences can witness another aspect of this “can do it all” attitude when the Leap Frogs, the Navy’s elite parachuting team, performs at the Vectren Dayton Air Show.

The Leap Frogs push the boundary of what is possible. While plummeting to the earth, they manipulate their canopies, climb on top of each other’s chutes and even deploy their parachute hanging upside from other team members. These are high-risk maneuvers that would spell a quick end for other jumpers.

“When I first came to the team, it blew my mind. I had been jumping for years, but this was something different. Everything instructors tell you not to do, that’s what the Leap Frogs do in every show,” says team member Special Operator First Class Brandon Peterson.

It is not a job for the faint of heart. It takes precision to complete the kinds of jumps the Leap Frogs perform. They routinely dive into crowded baseball and football stadiums in the middle of cities such as a recent jump in Chicago. Misinterpreting the wind and deploying the canopy at the wrong time leads to trouble. In a city, there isn’t a lot of room for error. Miss the stadium and you’re trapped in a maze of skyscrapers looking for a decent sized parking lot and also trying not to get killed.

“You don’t want to miss,” Peterson says. “That could be a bad day. Still, I’m enjoying the slower pace of performing with the Leap Frogs. It’s more relaxed than what I usually do for the Navy.”

That says a lot about Peterson’s normal job. The possibility of slamming into a skyscraper at 70 mph is more relaxing than a regular day at work.

The stunts and performances are not just entertainment. Moore hopes that the events demonstrate the Navy’s capabilities to the people of Dayton—everything from the soft power of music to build stronger international relations to the battlefield power of high-risk precision parachuting operations.

“We may not have ships stationed here, but we very much work for the people of Dayton,” Moore says. “They deserve to see what we can do for them.”

The Blue Angels and Leap Frogs will perform at the Vectren Dayton Air Show at Dayton International Airport on Saturday and Sunday, June 18 and 19. For more information please visit daytonairshow.com/2015/. For more on the Navy Band Northeast performances, please visit usnwc.edu/About/Navy-Band-Northeast/Upcoming-Events.aspx.

Don Hurst is a combat vet and a former police officer. He now lives in Dayton where he writes novels and plays. Reach DCP freelance writer Don Hurst at DonHurst@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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Don Hurst is a combat vet and a former police officer. He now lives in Dayton where he writes novels and plays. Reach DCP freelance writer Don Hurst at DonHurst@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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