ABOARD USS BOXER, At Sea (NNS) -- "Tigers" roamed the decks of USS Boxer (LHD 4) from May 23 to 31 during the ship's transit from Pearl Harbor to its homeport of San Diego, concluding the ship's extended Western Pacific deployment.
The tigers didn't have stripes, but were in fact friends and family of Boxer Sailors and Marines who were on board for the last leg of its deployment, commonly known as a "Tiger Cruise."
The Tiger Cruise allows family and friends to actually experience a bit of what life at sea is like for their Sailor or Marine.
"The Tiger Cruise gives me the opportunity to spend quality time with my cousin and see what it is he does in the Navy," said J.R. Martinez, a tiger aboard Boxer. "This entire experience has brought us much closer together."
Boxer Commanding Officer Capt. Matthew J. McCloskey welcomed more than 300 tigers to the ship to begin the cruise, thanked them for their support and invited them to make Boxer their home.
"Tiger Cruises are a great opportunity to show the community, as well as our friends and families, what we do as Sailors," said Tiger Cruise coordinator Lt. Cmdr. Bob Saunders. "Anyone can go on a commercial cruise, but until you are underway on a warship, you can't appreciate our lifestyle or the camaraderie that we share."
Throughout the cruise, friends and family observed flight deck operations, a weapons demonstration, toured the ship and took various seamanship classes. The tigers also earned their "Tiger Sea Warrior Certification" which qualified them as honorary sea-going Sailors.
"We put in a lot of effort to make sure that the tigers were well taken care of and had a good time," said Chief Damage Controlman (SW/AW) Ronald Beltowski. "It allows them to see firsthand what their Sailors and Marines do every day."
In addition to the scheduled activities, the tigers also gained hands-on knowledge of life at sea. They shared berthing with Boxer Sailors and Marines, ate in the galley and worked side-by-side with their Sailors and Marines in their daily jobs.
"I never knew how challenging life at sea could be," said Alex Valcarcel, a Boxer tiger. "It must take real strength and patience to live on a warship."
Tigers also participated in a variety of recreational activities including a cookie decorating contest, cinema-at-sea in the hangar bay and ice cream socials in the crew's galley.
"Seeing my brother is great," said tiger Aimee Ryce. "We had the chance to tour the ship, see an air show, and it has been interesting seeing how he lives and does his job on the ship."
Friends and family unable to make the one-week trip were able to take an overnight trip from Camp Pendleton, Calif., to San Diego, following the off-load of the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable).
Following a post-deployment leave period, Boxer will enter a maintenance period to prepare the ship for future operations.
For more news from USS Boxer, visit www.news.navy.mil/local/lhd4/.