The USS New York is finally in New York.
So said Cmdr. Curt Jones as family members of the 9/11 tragedy toured the ship built in honor of those who sacrificed their lives that day. "This is a very, very special day for us," he said.
Jets players and members of the Flight Crew made special appearances on Tuesday to sign autographs for the crew members and provide a little encouragement before the ship heads back out to sea Nov. 12.
"It's amazing seeing these men and women who are out there protecting us on the front line doing the things that they need to do," said center Nick Mangold. "These guys are happy to do it and it makes me so proud as an American."
"I have so much respect for our men and women in our military and the sacrifices they make," said kicker Jay Feely. "It's a pleasure to be here to be able to just thank them. Thank them for serving us. Thank them for what they do for our country."
"We wear the New York on our helmets and they wear the USS New York on their ship," said defensive lineman Sione Pouha. "What a feeling. Just the camaraderie — everybody's on here, everybody's just kind of living together through some fashion of nobility and loyalty to the country. That's the most amazing part."
The players and Flight Crew were taken on a tour led by Quartermaster Adam Smith. First they were led through the aft — the rear of the ship where the vehicles are stored in the bottom level.
"The two huge hovercrafts sitting in the back were pretty impressive," said Mangold. "It's amazing that you could have that on the ship and be able to send it wherever you want. That was pretty impressive."
Then they were taken up to the flight deck, where all the aircraft land and there are rescue helicopters and attack helicopters, along with a .50-caliber gun on the rearmost part of the vessel with pinpoint accuracy at a three-mile range to protect the ship.
Some of the Flight Crew got a chance to sit in one of the helicopters and don the headset the captains wear as they were shown some of the copter's controls.
"Just to see everyone else, their brothers, sisters, husbands, wives who are fighting for our country, I think it's great," said Laura D., whose brother is overseas as an Army soldier. "I was able to see what my brother does up close. It's amazing that we can be a part of this."
After that they were taken to the bridge, which is the control center, the busiest section of the ship, with plenty of sophisticated equipment to direct it. Rob Turner and Marques Murrell were very impressed with this part as crewmembers described the equipment.
Then they embarked on the most emotional segment of the tour as Smith led them to the front of the vessel.
"Being on this part of the ship where a lot of the scrap metal came from the World Trade Center is very, very humbling," said fullback Tony Richardson, referring to the seven-plus tons of steel salvaged from the fallen towers to build the USS New York. "I'm excited to have a chance to be here today."
"To find that steel and incorporate it in the most important part of this ship, right in the bow where the water meets the ship for the first time, that's where this steel lives," said Jets owner Woody Johnson, who spent Monday night on the ship with the other crew members. "It represents the most important part of the ship, so it has to be the strongest."
Johnson has been a strong supporter of the military and he's carried that passion since becoming owner of the Jets. He helped raise $500,000 for an education donation dedicated to the USS New York and is the chairman of the ship's commissioning ceremony, which will take place Saturday in New York Harbor.
"Support from members like Mr. Johnson is just absolutely invaluable and incredible," said Commander Jones. "The level of support he has given us just daily with his presence means a lot to every one of the sailors."
The 361 Marine and Navy personnel occupying the $1 billion vessel are just honored to be a part of it.
"To wake up on the USS New York and see the World Trade Center site with the sun rising under the bridge," said chaplain Laura Bender, "there was nothing better than that."