After 24 years as a Rose Festival Fleet Week tradition, the U.S. Navy's Host-a-Sailor program will be put on hold this year because of heightened federal security concerns.
Phil Dombrowski, fleet chairman for the Rose Festival, said the recommendation not to hold the program nationwide this year came from the FBI and Naval Criminal Investigation Service last month during the war against Iraq.
'It could become a logistical concern as far as checking on the backgrounds of people trying to pick up sailors,' Dombrowski explained. 'You never think about things like this before, but some of the people we're working with have commented that could be a big vulnerability for like a kidnapping or something like that.'
No such serious incidents have occurred, he said, 'but with things still fresh, between the war and the protesters and the various levels of the terrorist alert, their thinking was, why don't you just play it safe this year, and that's fine with me. We'll reassess in another year where we're at.'
Each summer about 100 community members volunteer to show a Navy or U.S. Coast Guard sailor around town for a day, taking them to museums, clubs, a barbecue or just home for a home-cooked meal. Originally called Dial-a-Sailor, the name of the program was changed in 1989 to avoid being perceived as a dating service.
The sailors instead will be able to take advantage of group tours while in port, Dombrowski said, noting that he's not too worried because 'Portland's pretty hospitable.'
Other than the program's absence this year, security at this year's Rose Festival will look much like last year's after Sept. 11, organizers say.
Modified security measures will be in place, including bag searches, advance sign-ups for ship tours, a fence around the village funneling pedestrian traffic to a single security checkpoint, and the smallest fleet ever Ñ eight vessels, down from 10 last year.
This year there will be four Navy vessels, two from the Coast Guard and two Canadian ships.