US Navy Tiger Cruise

Posted: March 21, 2011 in Journeys
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Main Deck of USS Farragut

The USS Farragut is a modern destroyer that carries Tomahawk missles and can deliver them to targets around the world. My son, Ben, is a Petty Officer and engineer aboard the ship. He also volunteers as a Search and Rescue Swimmer (SAR).

Recently (March 14-16, 2011) the ship hosted what is known as a “tiger cruise”, where a limited number of family and friends can visit the ship and cruise along for a few days. My younger son James and I met the ship in Charleston, SC, which then sailed to its home base in Jacksonville. We stayed aboard ship for two nights, and got to experience what life is like for those on active Navy duty.

The Farragut is an impressive warship, with extensive air defense systems, helicopter landing pad, large deck gun and machine guns, in addition to the Tomahawk missles.

We got tours of everything from the bridge to the engine room, and everything in between. The captain ran the ship at full speed and took it through a few gut-wrenching turns. We even got a demonstration of the deck gun. But our main goal was to experience the life that our son has aboard ship, and see how the US Navy treats its sailors. Should he stay in, or should he leave at the earliest opportunity.

Helicopter Landings

While sailors do not get paid very much, the Navy has been good for my son; his training, education, housing allowance, medical care, and life experiences have made him grow up significantly and be more prepared for a successful life after the Navy. As a Search and Rescue Swimmer, he is in enviable shape for all but the top tier of professional athletes. He has educational assistance and other benefits waiting for him when his term is up next summer.

But with a wife and child at home and another on the way, it becomes clear that this is not the life that promotes strong familial bonds. The long hours on duty, 24 hour shifts every six days, unexpected and unplanned voyages that occur at the last minute are but some of difficulties that sailors and soldiers have to deal with.

Ben preparing to go out into Rib Boat

Ben spent a continuous seven months at sea on deployment last year, mostly in the area of Somalia and Yemen chasing and apprehending pirates. He describes the pirates as severely malnourished and seriously ill criminals with machine guns and rocket propelled grenades. He has visited many ports of call, such as Bahrain, Portugal and Seychelles. Even when they are not technically on deployment, they are often at sea doing one exercise or another. 

I enjoyed the company of many of the sailors of all ranks. I met the Captain who seemed confident and able, along with engineers, bosuns, cooks and other specialists.

Most of the sailors I met that were over 25 had already been marriend and divorced at least once.  They have a lot of down time; not much time off duty, but a lot of time waiting in accordance with their orders. Dozens of sailors huddle on deck smoking during breaks; the language and stories are colorful. Heavy drinking and womanizing in ports are the norm. One young sailor tells me that he cannot wait to get to South America to meet the women there who he understands to be “free”.

As nice and capable as these sailors appear to be, these are not the kind of influences that young men need to be good fathers and husbands. If your single son and perhaps your daughter is 18-22 and in need of a wake up call, this might be just the ticket to give them some organization, direction, training, and discipline, not to mention some life acheivements. However, if they are married, especially with children, you may find that they will not be married long if this is their lifestyle. The Navy is a very hard life for most families.

In general morale was not great; the Navy politics, the ever-changing schedule, the mind-numbing inefficiency, the constantly overcooked food, the tight coffin-like sleeping quarters, and erratic and slow internet all make for long, long days in port and longer voyages at sea.

Sleeping "Coffin"

I came away from the cruise with better appreciation for sailors and soldiers who are on duty in peace time. Even if they are not fighting our enemies, they are sacrificing their time and freedom, and time with their families to be on the ready to defend us. It is much harder on them psychologically than I had understood.

While I previously encouraged my son to consider staying in the Navy to become an officer, I know agree that it is time for him to leave as soon as his enlistment is up. I love him, my granddaughter and my daughter-in-law too much to see their little family ripped apart. It is time to be proud of his service, take advantage of the benefits achieved by his sacrifices, and move on.

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Comments
  1. Dana says:

    Bill,

    What a great report on the navy life. Thanks. We all appreciate Ben’s work. Congratulations on him and his family. It must have been a real hoot for James!!!

    I hope everyone else is good. Please say hello to them.

  2. Terri says:

    Thanks, Bill, for an interesting blog. The service is a scary thing for all parents when their children consider joining. I’m happy to hear about the growth that goes on with these young men, and I agree that it will be awesome when he’s released! My personal thanks to Ben and the sailors (and spouses) for their sacrifice.

  3. Yvette K says:

    I agree with this blog wholeheartedly. Our Son is on deployment right now and it definitley has an ill effect on the family environment. He is married with 2 small children and a third child on its way. Thankfully his family is home during his deployment and we are able to be a support system for them while he is gone, but it is not the same as him being here. He is due to exit his active dutyin June 2012 and although was trying to reenlist, the Navy is not allowing him to do it. This may be a blessing in disguise for him and his family. God Bless all of our service men/women and their families for their sacrifices for the betterment of our country.

    • wdperkins says:

      God bless you and your son Yvette! My son’s time in the Navy served a great purpose in his life, but it is time to move on! Hopefully there will be work and other opportunities for these young men when they get out. My son also is due to get out next Spring/Early Summer.

  4. Yvette says:

    God Bless your family as well and thank your Son for his service to the country and your family for their sacrifices. We are hoping his Dad can go on the TIger Cruise with him upon his return, from your blog his Dad would get great enjoyment out of seeing the inside workings of an aircraft carrier.

    Sincerely,Yvette

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