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Show us Your Navy Pride: Six SBNL members attend the 2009 USS Ronald Reagan

TIGER Cruise
For the crews of many Navy warships, the final leg of a long deployment is a chance to
show Mom and Dad their Navy Pride. This is because the Navy often stages a TIGER
cruise on the home stretch back to the ships home port. During a TIGER cruise, crew
members can have members of their families join them as TIGERs to experience life
under way on a Navy warship. While on board, the TIGERs observe almost all aspects
of shipboard life, including their sailors and airmen. The TIGER cruise is a once-in-alifetime sharing experience for everyone involved.
The Navy also invites non-family members with distinguished service records or who
have tangibly demonstrated strong support for Navy operations to join some TIGER
cruises. This enabled six distinguished Santa Barbara Navy League Council (SBNL)
members to embark the Councils adopted aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan (USSRR)
at NAS Pearl Harbor, Hawaii for a seven-day voyage across the Pacific to NAS North
Island, San Diego, California as part of the USSRR 2009 TIGER Cruise.
The SBNLs 2009 TIGERs:
Bob Byers Jr: Investor / Westlake Village
Martin Cohn: Attorney / Santa Barbara
COL Phil Conran: (USAF Retired) / Santa Barbara
Thiep Cung: Architect / Santa Barbara
CAPT James Kunkle: (USAF Retired) / Santa Ynez
Rick Reeves: Software Developer / SBNL Board Member / Santa Barbara
All had been nominated by the SBNL Board to attend the cruise in recognition of their
strong support for the US Armed Forces and the SBNL. In addition, Phil Conran and Jim
Kunkle are retired, decorated Air Force pilots with distinguished service records; this fact
was not lost to members of the USSRR the Air Squadrons. <more below>
All of the TIGERs had high expectations for this voyage, even if they did not know quite
to expect during a week aboard an aircraft carrier. As this story unfolds, it will become
clear that all SBNL TIGERs expectations were greatly exceeded.
Some perspective on this voyage: The USSRR was returning from a nine-month
deployment to East Asia, where the ships Air Squadrons provided Close Air Support to
ground forces fighting in Afghanistan. In addition to this core mission, the ship traveled
to ports in Southeast Asia, including Bangkok Thailand, to perform humanitarian work.
The crew was, understandably, travel-weary and eager to return to San Diego, having
been separated from family for most of 2009. In this light, the extreme hospitality and
positive, professional attitude exhibited by each crew member was amazing.

October 14: Arrival Honolulu

Our TIGER Cruise sponsor, LCDR Ron Flanders, instructed us to meet him at the NAS
Pearl Harbor Main Gate at 0730 on Thursday 15 October in order to check-in, board the
ship, and secure onboard accommodations Each TIGER traveled independently to
Honolulu; as my flight descended into Honolulu, I caught my first glimpse of the
USSRR. Easy to spot, with a length of 1,092 feet:

October 15: Embarkation, Indoctrination, and Departure

The SBNL TIGERS first met as a group dockside the USSRR at NAS Pearl Harbor. Here
we also met our primary Sponsor, LCDR Ron Flanders, who functioned as our
Concierge, Tour Guide, and Subject Matter Expert on all aspects of the USSRR. After we
checked in, Ron directed us to our accommodations, which were in the Distinguished
Visitor (DV) section of the Officers Deck:

As DVs, two TIGERs shared a room with two spacious bunk beds, two desks, a
television, ample drawer, cabinet and storage space plus a sink. Bathroom and shower
facilities were located within 10 meters of our cabins. Superb!
Two other officers supported LCDR Flanders in his Sponsor role and are worthy of note:
CDR John Mill, the ships Combat Systems Officer, and LCDR Jackie Lapacek the
ships AIMD Maintenance Officer. Our sponsors managed to conduct their normal (and
considerable) shipboard duties while at the same time making themselves available on
call to us (and other DV Tigers) to answer questions and arrange tours during waking
hours. We saw all of them at least once per day, and in the case of LCDR Lapacek,
several times as she led us on special tours of special Divisions (departments) on the
The USS Ronald Reagan departed Pearl Harbor at 1330 hours on October 15, sailing
under sunny skies past the USS Arizona Memorial and the USS Missouri (in drydock) on
her way to sea:

My first live view of The Arizona Memorial, and doubly moving when seen from the
deck of the USRR, as was the view of the USS Missouri:

The Santa Barbara TIGERs ascended to the Flight Deck to witness the USSRRs transit
through deeply historic Pearl Harbor, and departure into the calm Pacific Ocean. All too
soon, we exited Pearl Harbor and moved beyond Diamond Head into the open Pacific:

As the ship moved into the open ocean, we began to learn how to navigate throughout the
ship. As DVs, we were permitted to move at will throughout the Officers Decks basically, all decks above the cavernous Hangar Deck - in addition to the remaining nonrestricted decks below the Hangar Deck. However, to do so, we needed to figure out the
maze of doors, ladders, and passageways; this took some trial and error and then more
error. The first couple of days, it took extra time to reach the wardrooms or other
destinations. Fortunately, when lost in a passageway we could always count on a member
of the crew to rescue us with directions to our intended destination.

For meals, we had access to the Flight Officers Wardroom, down the corridor from our
staterooms, and to the main Officers Wardroom, five decks below, on the Mess Deck.

Shipboard Life: the beauty of Spontaneous Conversation

Before continuing the day-by-day narrative, let me summarize our daily routine: Once
underway, our group dispersed to pursue various activities, coalescing (sometimes) for
meals and (most of the time) for special tours arranged by our sponsors. The rest of us
structured our day around tours scheduled for us by our escorts, special ship-wide
events such as the Air Show, Steel Beach picnic, and (sometimes best of all)
spontaneous conversations with USSRR crew members, usually during meals, that led to
unexpected and informative tours of the ship.
One example of this was: Marty Cohn and I ate lunch, by chance, with the ships Senior
Chaplain, CDR John Denton. As we ate, we discussed morale and discipline issues
among the enlisted sailors. This led to an informative tour of the enlisted living quarters
(sleeping 125 persons to a room), and to our attendance at the Sunday Gospel Church
service. CDR Denton is a fountain of knowledge on the daily lives and struggles of crew
As our voyage continued, our knowledge of the USSRRs daily operations increased. We
got to know our fellow TIGERs. And we had some very good tours of various Divisions

(Departments) aboard USSRR. Among a field of excellent tours/briefings, three examples

come to mind: The Nuclear Reactor Division, hosted by the Assistant Reactor Officer;
Air Traffic Control Center, hosted by the Senior Air Traffic Controller, and the INTEL
(Intelligence) Division , hosted by the Senior INTEL Officer.
During the voyage we experienced many events, held many conversations with the
USSRR crew. I have selected five that capture the essence of the USSRR, her crew, and
their families:
Fri October 16
To build morale and recognize the achievement of high performers among the enlisted
crew, each day the USSRR Command selects a Sailor of the Day. The winner gets to visit
the bridge, listening while the Captain announces the reason for his selection over the
public address system. Here we see AOD for October 16, Airman Alberto Rivera
(center), his commanding officer (left), and Captain Norton. The expressions on
everyones faces sum up the mood of the occasion.

The SBNLs TIGER group included two distinguished retired Air Force Pilots: Col Phil
Conran, who flew helicopters with great distinction during the Vietnam War, and Captain
James Kunkle, a much-decorated fighter pilot (P-38 and P-51) during World War II. The
reputations of these gentlemen had preceded them on board the USSRR, and one of the

ships operational fighter squadrons, VFA-22 (The Fighting Redcocks), promptly

adopted both men. Here they are, pictured with another distinguished US Air Force
pilot, Brigadier General Steve Ritchie.

From Left: Jim Kunkle, Jim Ritchie, Phil Conran

The men of the VFA-22 bestowed true VIP treatment to all three of these warriors; the
best treatment was reserved for Kunk: A surprise 87th Birthday Party, and an honorary
commendation designating Jim as an Honorary Redcock and Bad-Ass Living Legend.
Sat October 17
Sun October 18
Aircraft carriers are, after all, about aviation, and we all wanted to learn about USSRRs
aircraft squadrons and to observe flight operations. We were not disappointed in this
regard. The squadron flight crews were almost always ready and willing to discuss their
craft with us, and the USSRR conducted flight operations on three separate days: The Air
Show rehearsal (Oct 15), the Air Show (Oct 16), and the Aircraft Fly-off (Oct 20) when
the USSRRs flight squadron aircraft all departed the ship for their home air bases,
located along the West Coast (Whidbey Island, Lemoore, and Pt. Mugu). During flight
operations the stations on the USSRR Island - Bridge, Pri-Fly (Flight Operations
bridge), and outdoor Vultures Row - were crowded as TIGERS and others searched for
the best vantage point to watch aircraft operations:

Three aircraft preparing for takeoff: Aircraft are launched at one-minute intervals.
Persons in colored jerseys are members of the Flight Deck Crew. Colors denote each
persons specific jobs; the crewman refer to themselves as The Skittles.

An E/A-6 Prowler returns to the USSRR after the Air Power demonstration.

Aside from the pure adrenaline-and-sensory-overload experience of watching the launch

and recovery of Navy aircraft, the highlight of this day was seeing the overwhelming
pride on the faces of the flight deck crews families as they watched their kids working
the flight deck:

Burial at Sea: The Navy Takes Care of Its Own

On Sunday we had the privilege of observing a long-standing and moving Navy tradition:
the burial at sea of a former Navy sailor, performed at sunset, at the edge of the USSRRs
cavernous Hangar Deck:

The circumstances of this ceremony illustrate the reach and depth of honor and tradition
in the Navy Family: Captain Norton granted the request of a former member of the
USSRR enlisted crewman to bury at sea the ashes of his father, a junior enlisted sailor
who had served the Navy over thirty years ago. The passage of time means little to the
Navy Family, and the father and his family were rendered full military honors on one of
the Navys largest ships.
The message of this service to all onboard the USSRR, especially in the enlisted ranks,
was clear: Serve the Navy honorably, and you will always be a member of the Family.
Mon October 19
Dinner with Captain Kenneth Norton
A special highlight: a private dinner with CAPT Norton in the dining room of his in-port
cabin. The SBNL TIGERs were especially honored to dine with the Captain as there were
only six nights on the cruise, and over 800 TIGERS on the ship, including nine members
of the Captains family. We enjoyed fine food, and a memorable, quiet conversation.
Here we are, awaiting dinner, in the Captains in-port cabin Sitting Room:

From Left: Marty Cohn, Bob Beyers Jr, CAPT Jim Kunkle, CAPT Kenneth Norton,
COL Phil Conran, Theiep Cung, Rick Reeves

Wed October 21
Arrival San Diego / NAS North Island
A very moving morning as we entered San Diego Harbor with a large escort of local
ships and all of USSRRs sailors Manning the Rail in a show of white uniforms. We
had the privilege of witnessing from the inside a major US warship returning to port (in
this case, NAS North Island in the spectacular San Diego harbor) after a 10 month
wartime deployment.

Needless to say, the USSRRs home wharf was crowded with family and friends.

After docking, the sailors disembark the ship in an order prescribed by Navy tradition.
One tradition: Fathers of children born during the deployment are allowed to disembark
first. As expected, this attracts the attention of local News Media:

About one hour after docking, the DVs were allowed to leave the ship. As we collected
our group of TIGERS dockside, Phil Conran (with Military ID) and I went into Coronado
to get our rented van for the drive to Santa Barbara. Leaving San Diego at approximately
1:30 pm, we arrived in Santa Barbara at approximately 7:30 pm, having made four stops
including lunch and to drop off TIGERs at various locations.

Conclusion: Knowledge Gained, Lessons Learned

All of the SBNL TIGERs disembarked USSRR profoundly impressed with her
capabilities and that of her young crew (average age: 23 years). We learned a tremendous
amount during the trip, much of which we are still consciously (and unconsciously)
processing and absorbing. Among the most important lessons was the one that I hope
these examples convey: the Navys family values respect, responsibility, and
teamwork are the forces that shape the USS Ronald Reagan and her crew into a
formidable global fighting force.