Thousands of Manzanillo residents and visitors watched the precision military exercises staged by the Fuerzas Especiales (Special Forces) in commemoration of the 85th anniversary of the nationalization of the Mexican Navy, and the 60th anniversary of the Dia de La Marina, or Navy Day, always held on June 1.
The day began with an incredible sunrise over the port, mild breezes and calm seas.
As the President of Mexico, Vicente Fox Quesada, flew into the Playa de Oro airport, he most likely had an opportunity to see one of Manzanillo's most famous features--a sunrise as beautiful as this one. But this was not the only thing the president would see. The Special Forces team was at the airport to prevent a mock hijacking of an airliner, and he appeared impressed as the well-drilled strike force thwarted the terrorists.
The M.P. Zapoteco, carrying visiting dignitaries, high ranking military officers, special invitation guests, and the press from all over Mexico, was docked directly behind the Veracruz (the ship designated for President Vicente Fox), and followed it (or drew up alongside it) throughout the exercises. More photos.
At approximately 8 a.m. the naval fleet, consisting of destroyers, frigates, ocean patrol vessels, and patrol Interceptors left the harbor to get in formation prior to the arrival of the "Supreme Commander of the Mexican Armed Forces," President Vicente Fox Quesada. Before the President's appearance, helicopters practiced their take-offs, landings, and formations. More photos
President Fox was transported to the ocean patrol vessel, ARM Veracruz, PO-154 by helicopter, directly from Manzanillo's Playa de Oro airport, about 17 miles north of town.
The commander of the M.P. Zapoteco received word that President Fox had arrived 20 minutes early, but that wasn't a problem for the fleet--the men and their ships had practiced for weeks and they were ready to honor their Supreme Commander.
As the president's helicopter came down on the Veracruz's helipad, the sailors aboard stood at attention.
The power of the rotor blades on the chopper blew up ocean spray aboard all on deck, and forced the gunner of the Interceptor to wear protective eye gear. The vessel Manzanillo is in the background. More photos.
President Fox was escorted to the top deck, where he would be afforded an excellent view of the exhibition. A whistle sounded, and a reception was held in his honor. Aboard the sister ship, Zapoteco, traveling with the Veracruz, the guests were also served refreshments and snacks.
Following the flag-raising ceremony aboard ship, President Fox gave his message in the celebration of the Dia De La Marina.
In his message, which was broadcast on loud speakers, he thanked the Secretary of the Marina, the Secretary of Defense, and the men and women of the Mexican military for their dedication and service to the country.
He complimented the soldiers on their patriotism, loyalty, discipline, and professionalism, and stated that they took on an important responsibility when they joined the Armada de Mexico.
The naval forces and the military, he said, is responsible for protecting 3 million square kilometers of exclusive economic zone, 11,000 kilometers of coastline, and 200 nautical miles of ocean surrounding the country of Mexico.
They also have the responsibility of guarding our maritime resources, and protecting the rights of the states. Other duties include combating illegal drug traffickers, persons and arms; guarding against illegal fishing, and stopping and seizing contraband. Fox stated that the Navy is the guardian of the seas, and is responsible for preserving species, such as the humpback whale from extinction, and protecting the coral reefs. The Navy has been seen locally protecting sea turtles when they come up on the beaches to lay their eggs.
Fox talked about the reorganization and modernization of the Armada de Mexico, and how this has helped guarantee the stability and safety of Mexico's citizens and visitors to the country.
By intensifying the marine operations, 161 persons have been caught in illegal activities and arrested, 54 ships carrying illegal contraband have been seized, and 65 tons of marijuana and 19,400 kilos of cocaine have been confiscated, through the formation of 134 strategic military installations.
Fox also spoke of the new educational opportunities in the military, for both men and women. Fox vowed to continue to work to maintain a military with high honor, prestige, and a rank of greatness as a fighting force. He asked the naval forces to continue to work with enthusiasm, honesty and absolute dedication, and "prepare with the knowledge that you have the affection, admiration and respect of all Mexicans." More photos of President Fox aboard the Veracruz.
Following the President's address, there was a brief memorial service, and an offering of a floral wreath to the sea, in memory of those sailors lost in the service to their country. After a poignant moment of silence, the Naval Review began!
The decks of the Veracruz and Zapoteco were "buzzed" by low-flying planes and helicopters in precision formation. As you saw and heard them coming toward the ships, it was easy to believe you were in combat.
It was an impressive display of coordination and force by the Armada de Mexico. In the foreground, the Veracruz, with President Fox and his entourage on the bow bridge. More photos.
Aboard the Zapoteco, orders were given to "abandon ship," followed by a mass exodus of sailors in life jackets, swimming to rubber inflatables, and shooting off emergency flares.
One problem, not known until the men entered the water, was the unexpected threat of stinging jellyfish. More photos.
Next, came a drug bust, using one of Manzanillo's shrimp boats as the drug trafficker, and a helicopter (equipped with a special forces team ready to rappel), and 2 Interceptor-class patrol boats.
The Interceptors fired their machine guns, and quickly took control of the bad guys, boarding the fishing vessel in less than a minute's time. The helicopter circled above, ready to lend assistance, if called in. More photos.
The final review of the Armada de Mexico consisted of all ships passing by the Veracruz (each with a helicopter hovering a few feet above the flight deck). The Interceptors, traveling at double the speed of the fleet, were cutting between the larger vessels. As each vessel would pass the Veracruz, the sailors would salute their Supreme Commander, remove their hats and recite 7 times, "Viva Mexico!" More photos.
On the way back into Manzanillo harbor, people were lined up on the Las Brisas jetty to get a glimpse of the President, and the Pacific Fleet.
Las Brisas is also the home of the naval base, located directly behind this jetty, which is the entrance to the harbor. The base has numerous homes, apartments, barracks, an officers' club, a general store, and swimming pool, all on meticulously maintained grounds.
Before entering the harbor, however, there was still another exercise to complete.
This time, the Interceptors headed straight to the San Pedrito beach, running the boats aground.
The area was secured (note the soldier on the beach with his rifle aimed at the bad guys), and flares were set off, all accomplished in a minute's time. More photos.
Every exercise was executed to perfection, and the Veracruz finally headed to the API (Interior Port Authority) dock, surrounded by Interceptors and trailed by the Zapoteco.
As President Fox disembarked, the flag of the Supreme Commander was lowered, and the President went on to inaugurate EXPOMAR 2002, a new event to honor the Navy and explain its goals, duties and missions. Held in Mexico City, in the building housing the Secretary of the Armada de Mexico, there will be exhibits, videos, photos, models of ships, military equipment, demonstrations, and more. More photos (including President Fox in Manzanillo).
Following the morning's activities, an officers' party was held on the Navy base in Las Brisas. It gave the commanders a chance to wind down after a job well done, enjoy great food, a drink or two, and live music.
Of particular interest was the Mariachi band, one of the best around, doing naval favorites, such as "7 Seas." All of the Mariachi band members are active military, and the two women singers are lieutenants. These Mariachis have special belts with a silver buckle sporting an anchor design, and the belt itself is custom made with anchor details.
Following the traditional Mariachi music, the Naval orchestra played concertos, such as Braham's Lullaby, as well as big band music, and popular show tunes.
An awards ceremony was hosted by the Commander of the Pacific Fleet, Admiral Casimiro Armando Martinez Pretelin. After saluting and thanking his staff for a job well done, he began to present awards.
Each commanding officer of every ship, fixed-wing aircraft, and helicopters received a plaque for their exemplary service, and perfectly-timed maneuvers.
The acknowledgements were well-deserved; the entire day, from start to finish, went perfectly.
In the photo, left, the Comandante of the Fuerza Naval del Pacifico, Almirante Casimiro A. Martinez Pretelin, awards a plaque to Contra Almirante Mauricio Hernandez Butron. More photos.
Author's Note: It is indeed an honor to have been issued an invitation to take part in the celebration of Mexico's Dia De La Marina. I have learned a lot about the history of the country that I live in, and I hold the utmost respect for the men and women who have made Manzanillo the safe place that I call my home.
It was a privilege to be allowed aboard the M.P. Zapoteco to closely observe the event. It was also an honor to be able to see the President of Mexico, Vicente Fox, along with the Governor, Fernando Moreno Peņa. As the only local "gringa" to get a chance to closely observe this special day, it is with heartfelt gratitude that I thank Almirante Pretelin (commander of the Pacific Fleet), Contra Almirante Victor Uribe Arevalo (commander of the fleet of destroyers) and Lt. Edgar Valencia Moncada. You have my respect and continued devotion to talking about, and promoting the impressive Fuerza Naval del Pacifico. Viva Mexico!
June 3, 2002
This feature on the Mexican Navy is dedicated to a young friend and diving companion, Julian Gonzales, who bravely fought his own 3-year battle with cancer. Some of you will know him from Tenisol in Club Santiago. The entire family gave generously of their time and money to help the children of this community. All of us at Underworld Scuba and Gomanzanillo will miss him, and would like to extend our condolences to his father and mother, Julian and Teresa, and the rest of his family. Susan Dearing, Carlos Cuellar and John Loya