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The Women of Fleet Week Hit the Town

by News Desk

It takes a certain panache to wear white in New York City. And Khrzielle Vargas, a 21-year-old seaman apprentice from Fremont, Calif., was strolling through Times Square on Thursday afternoon in her white trousers, white jumper top and white sailor hat.

“When you walk around the city in your uniform, you look like you’re glowing,” Ms. Vargas said.

Ms. Vargas was among the 3,000 service members of the Navy and the Marines swarming the streets of New York City for Fleet Week, a Memorial Day tradition that has returned for the first time since 2019.

The seven-day festival includes a parade of ships, public tours of naval vessels docked along the Hudson River and various demonstrations of nautical and aeronautical prowess by members of the Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard.

And, of course, the service members take advantage of their shore leave to explore the city’s many diversions.

In decades past, the concept of sailors letting off steam called to mind distinctly male rituals of carousing, as idealized in the 1949 musical “On the Town,” which starred Frank Sinatra and Gene Kelly as two Navy men in search for love while on leave in New York City.

But the Fleet Week packs seen strolling Midtown Manhattan on Thursday night tended to include both men and women, and many seemed to be limiting their revelry to window shopping, museum-hopping and lunch at the Hard Rock Cafe, like any other tourist.

“I’m mostly seeing museums, looking at stores,” said Chelsea Acevedo, 26, a sailor from Austin, Texas, who was taking in the parade of people at the red steps in Times Square with another female sailor and two male shipmates.

Because she is unfamiliar with the city, Ms. Acevedo said she made a point of traveling with fellow male sailors for safety. New Yorkers, she said, sometimes mistook her for one of the men.

“From the front, people don’t really see your hair, so they’ll say, ‘Thank you guys for your service,’” Ms. Acevedo said. “And then you turn around and they’re like, ‘Oh, O.K.!”

While Manhattan has seen its share of antiwar protests, several female sailors said they were surprised to have received salutes from passers-by. (One female Marine, however, said a woman in Times Square gave her the middle finger.)

Around 4:30 p.m., at West 46th Street and Seventh Avenue, clusters of sailors mingled near the statue of George M. Cohan, the Broadway luminary whose life inspired the film “Yankee Doodle Dandy.” They found themselves becoming tourist-bait, like the people who dress up as Minnie Mouse or Elmo for tips.

“Everyone wants to take pictures with us,” said Anna Rodriguez, 21, a crew member of the U.S.S. Bataan, an amphibious assault ship. “They say, ‘Thank you for your service.’ Little kids smile really big.”

Ms. Rodriguez, who is from Waco, Texas, said she was proud to patrol the city in her summer whites, which look smarter than ever, she said, with the modernized navy-blue piping on the jumper flap collar and sleeves.

Even so, the New York grime poses a challenge. “It’s going to get dirty,” she said. “But our ship is offering free dry cleaning at night. Drop it off at 2 a.m., pick it up at eight in the morning.”

Brianna Crigger, 20, a U.S.S. Bataan shipmate from West Jefferson, Ohio, was enjoying a break from her job refueling fighter jets. For one thing, the uniform “is just cool,” she said. “This is going to sound conceited, but I just like the way I look in it.”

And more than that, she was proud of the message behind the uniform.

“It’s a uniform you put on to show that you’re doing this for your country, you’re doing this for the people who died for your country, you’re doing this for the people back home,” Ms. Crigger said. “It just shows that you’re more than what you think you are.”

As for shore-leave high jinks — the crowded bars, the flashy nightclubs — Ms. Crigger had more modest plans for her time in New York.

“I want to go see the Trump Tower and the Statue of Liberty because I know my mom would want a picture,” Ms. Crigger said. “But I’m not of age, so I’m not going out. I usually just go back to the gym on the ship, shower and go to bed.”

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