Detroit-based U.S. Navy reservists Kyle Ormsby and Anthony Rini have both been to Iraq, but they're visiting Buffalo for the first time as part of this week's Navy Week festivities.
The men like what they see.
"It's a good time," said Ormsby, a petty officer second-class master-at-arms who, clad in his white service uniform, greeted several visitors Thursday afternoon outside Buffalo & Erie County Naval and Military Park.
"Everyone's been appreciative," Ormsby said. "There's a big veterans community here, so that helps."
Ormsby and Rini volunteered for Navy Week. They participated in last week's events in Detroit and arrived in Buffalo earlier this week. The men say they have enjoyed dining out downtown, visiting the Chippewa Entertainment District as well as getting to see the rest of city and meeting people.
At the same time, the sailors are staying up to date on the latest world events. They cited the deployment of a pair of Navy ships to the coast of Libya after Tuesday's attack on the U.S. embassy there and explained their Navy brethren would be responding to escalating violence in that part of the world.
Texas residents Martha Sandoval and Elva Lozano were a few of the Navy Week visitors approaching Ormsby and Rini and thanking them for their service.
The women, who were on a scheduled vacation to Niagara Falls, were thrilled to hear that their timing serendipitously allowed them to also attend Navy Week in Buffalo.
Sandoval, whose son fought in the Persian Gulf War and whose grandson is currently in the Navy, and Lozano, who has a niece in the Air Force, toured the USS The Sullivans destroyer, marveling at the ship and appreciating those who serve on Navy ships like it.
Sandoval felt compelled to tour a Navy ship so she "can get a little bit of an experience of what [her grandson] goes through."
"I thanked [Ormsby and Rini] for their service," Sandoval said of her brief meeting with the Navy men. "Whenever I see a serviceman, I feel the need to thank them, I just have to thank them. You look around the world and all the people who have to be afraid because of where they live. I don't have to be afraid and that's because of [the service embers of the U.S. military]."
That's the kind of sentiment Ed Hogle is trying to spread through his 9/11 steel art sculpture on display at the naval park. Hogle, of Steel Crazy Military Art, is on a mission to create a "Military Thank-You Tour" though his art. The sculpture is a large steel "9" with the twin towers sculpted in detail to represent the "11."
"Nine-eleven is a date in our history that's evil, but I didn't want to be part of something evil," explained Hogle. "We decided our mission in life was going to be to create a 'Thank- You Day' on 9/11 every year. So, when 9/11 shows up, we don't have to hide. We're going to hug a sailor and hug a Marine."
Hogle hopes to drum up more support when he displays his sculpture at the popular Fort Worth Airpower Foundation's Sky Ball X in Texas next month. In the meantime, he's enjoying Navy Week in his hometown.
"This is the greatest thing in the world. Sailors meeting civilians. Civilians meeting sailors," said Hogle, who said he witnessed a woman asking to hug a sailor at Navy Week events.
"Here's this sailor hugging this lady - there's almost a tear in his eye," he said.
That spirit of mutual appreciation is what Navy Week is all about, according to Anthony N. Diina, a director at the naval park, who buzzed around the grounds Thursday afternoon, greeting visitors and helping keep events running smoothly.
Besides showcasing military ships and the historic re-creation of the Brig Niagara tall ship, visitors were treated to military demonstrations, re-enactors in full dress and offered opportunities "to talk to service members about their daily efforts to defend the nation," he said.
Meanwhile Thursday, military personnel were busy across the area participating in several outreach programs.
There was a wreath-laying ceremony at the War of 1812 cemetery in Cheektowaga, several military band concerts and dress drills by U.S. Coast Guard personnel in 1812 period dress.
Diina hailed the event as a coup for the naval park. Buffalo is the Navy Week's last stop in a national tour that has seen it visit 14 other cities - seven on the Great Lakes. The week celebrates the bicentennial of the War of 1812.
"It's certainly going to help establish us as one of the major destinations on the waterfront," said Diina, adding that plans are in the works for the naval park to acquire even more military vehicles and even open an arcade featuring popular military video games. "People will come, if you give them reasons to come."