Little Rock Navy Week festivities include workshops, exhibitions, music

Original Article: Arkansas Online

Aside from the USS Razorback and the USS Hoga nestled along the Arkansas River’s north shore, the U.S. Navy usually is out of sight and out of mind in Arkansas. Not this week.

Today, the Navy is taking a handful of assets to the central part of the state for Little Rock Navy Week to give residents an “up-close, personal look at their Navy.”

While Arkansas isn’t readily susceptible to any maritime threat, its exports are. And with agriculture contributing $20 billion annually to the state, the Navy’s protection of Arkansas’ commodities on the high seas is invaluable.

Additionally, Arkansas small businesses benefit from Navy contracts. In fiscal 2016, Arkansas small businesses won about $25 million in Navy contracts.

“We may not be able to get carriers up the river, but we can bring personnel and some assets,” said Lt. Cmdr. Brett Dawson of the Navy Office of Community Outreach. “The idea is to let people put their hands on the Navy to raise awareness and help citizens understand why Little Rock needs a strong Navy.”

The festivities start at noon today at the Arkansas Inland Maritime Museum and run through Saturday with activities scheduled throughout central Arkansas.

Navy divers and underwater robotics will be on display at the Jim Dailey Fitness & Aquatic Center this afternoon; the Navy Band Southeast Popular Music Group will perform Friday. The Navy will have other activities and displays throughout the region during the week, including a virtual reality simulator in which participants save a crew of Navy SEALs.

Little Rock is one of 15 cities this year to host a Navy week. Sailors began taking weeklong community relations trips to landlocked cities in 2005, but this is the first time they’ve come to Arkansas.

The events come as the future USS Little Rock — the Navy’s newest littoral combat ship — prepares to make its way through the Great Lakes to Buffalo, N.Y., where it will be commissioned Dec. 16.

The new ship will be commissioned next to its namesake, the former USS Little Rock — a Cleveland-class light cruiser put into service in 1945 before transforming into a guided-missile cruiser a decade later. The original USS Little Rock, decommissioned in 1976, is now a museum ship.

The December commissioning will be the first time a ship has been commissioned next to its namesake.

A local volunteer committee has been working to ensure the crew receives a proper send-off. The city of Little Rock will give an official gift to the ship, and the local namesake committee is arranging gifts for each crew member, said Ron Maxwell, coordinator for the USS Little Rock Namesake Committee.

“Everything is falling into place here on the Little Rock side,” he said.

As part of Navy week, Little Rock Mayor Mark Stodola and North Little Rock Mayor Joe Smith will host a public reception at Curran Hall, 601 E. Sixth St. in Little Rock, from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Thursday. Maxwell said the reception will be a great opportunity to learn more about the ship.

On Wednesday, the Navy and the Arkansas Procurement Assistance Center will host a workshop for small businesses. Melanie Berman, program director at the Arkansas Procurement Assistance Center, said the workshop will show businesses what the Navy is buying and how to pursue those contracts.

The federal government sets aside certain contracts strictly for small businesses, and while small Arkansas companies won $25 million in Navy contracts last year, Berman said there’s definitely room for that amount to grow.

“There’s so many contracting opportunities out there that can help bring revenue and jobs to our state,” she said.

Organizers asked those wishing to attend the workshop to register online or call (501) 671-2390. It runs from 10 a.m. to noon Wednesday at the Cooperative Extension Service Auditorium, 2301 S. University Ave. in Little Rock.

Little Rock Navy Week concludes Saturday night with a Navy Ball at the Wyndham Riverfront in North Little Rock.

“This week gives us a chance to re-inject into the community and say ‘Hey, don’t forget about us,'” said Dawson, the Navy community outreach officer.

A full calender of this week’s events can be found online at: http://outreach.navy.mil/Navy-Weeks/Little-Rock/.