USS ENTERPRISE --
Marines with Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 251, also known as the Thunderbolts, walked down the steps of the USS Enterprise. The sun beamed into their eyes as they searched the thunderous welcoming crowd for their family members, then tears were shed and hugs were shared as Marines and sailors found their Tigers.
The USS Enterprise pulled into Naval Station Mayport, Mayport, Fla., and welcomed nearly 1,500 Tigers, aboard July 13. This welcome marked the beginning of the Tiger Cruise, with 20 Thunderbolts and their 26 Tigers aboard as the ship transited to its homeport of Naval Station Norfolk, Norfolk, Va.
Tiger Cruises are a tradition in the Navy that allows the general public an opportunity to experience what Marines and sailors do each day. The Enterprise’s Tigers were able to come aboard for two days and eat, sleep and walk around the ship where their service member sponsor spent the past six months living and working.
“My family doesn’t get to see too much of what I do normally,” said Sgt. Tyler Elliott, a VMFA-251 powerline technician. “To have them come aboard and experience the ship shows them the sacrifices we go through and is a fun once-in-a-lifetime experience for family members.”
Tiger Cruise participants had the opportunity to learn firsthand what it’s like to live and work aboard the world’s first nuclear-powered aircraft carrier. In addition to job-shadowing their sponsor Marine, Tigers also were able to participate in ship-wide tours and experience various Morale Welfare and Recreation-sponsored events, like movie, karaoke and game nights the Marines have been able to enjoy throughout their deployment.
“Being out here and experiencing what my daughter goes through was overwhelming,” said Judy Konicki, a Thunderbolt mother. “I never imagined how difficult the living conditions would be, like the long lines, not seeing day light, the heat and no privacy. I have so much respect for all of the Marines out here.”
Tigers were also able to observe flight deck operations and a special air power demonstration, try on shipboard firefighting equipment, scrub the flight deck and participate in regular ship activities.
“The air show was awesome,” said retired Master Gunnery Sgt. Ken Grant, a Thunderbolt father. “The power and precision of our forward deployed forces is amazing.”
Each of the Marine’s who brought Tigers aboard received awards for their accomplishments while on this deployment. The Tigers were able to stand next to their service member during the presentation and have a photo taken documenting the occasion.
“Seeing my daughter get an award was emotional for me,” Konicki said while looking over at her daughter and wiping her newly formed tears. “I stood there 27 years ago and watched her father get awards, and seeing her nametag reminded me of him and having a little munchkin at my side. Now she’s all grown up and it makes me just as proud as him.”