NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — The Norfolk-based aircraft carrier USS Gerald R. Ford and support ships are on station in the Eastern Mediterranean in what the Pentagon is calling a “signal of deterrence should any actor hostile to Israel consider trying to take advantage of this situation.” according to a news release.

The situation in Israel and Gaza is critical as the world’s largest naval base is preparing for the return of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Day Oct. 20 and Fleet Fest 2023 Oct. 21.

“It does not mean folks are not thinking and praying for our partners, but we are still operating,” said Capt. Janet Days, commanding officer of Naval Station Norfolk. “We’re still here operating we operate every day and this is still an opportunity for our civilian counterparts and our community to come on board and see what the Navy does.”

For visitors, from near or far, the first stop will include a display for force protection.

“Folks will come off [Interstate] 564 and they will come in the main gate where they will be shepherded in,” Days said. “The ships will be there, the displays and all on the piers up towards the north [end of the base, near the carrier piers].”

Fleet Fest comes at a critical time for Navy recruiters. The service missed its 2023 recruitment goal by nearly 8,000 enlisted sailors and officers.

“I think it’s important that we add access and availability for individuals to come on board and just to see for themselves and talk to people to gain their own perspective,” said Days, who served in the Army before joining the Navy. She graduated from Old Dominion University in 1999 and received her commission through the Naval ROTC.

Days is proud to host the return of Fleet Fest, which was sidelined due to the pandemic.

“We’re going to have static displays with various aircraft and the United States Coast Guard is participating,” Days said. “We’re going to have military working dogs and of course, the world’s largest bounce house. Of course, bring the kids on board.”

Fleet Fest information

What: Fleet Fest 2023

When: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturday, Oct. 21

Where: Naval Station Norfolk

The event is free and open to the public and will include ship tours, live entertainment, static aircraft displays, a large children’s play area, military demonstrations, a chili cook-off, food vendors, craft beer from local breweries and more.

More information on Fleet Fest