BREMERTON, Wash. (NNS) -- As the first carrier on station in the North Arabian Sea in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70) was the first to launch air strikes on Afghanistan. Sailors spent a busy, 111 consecutive days at sea to support the mission, with the crew of the flight deck receiving few days off the job.
Prior to arriving at Bremerton on Jan. 23., as the nation's newest heroes, some of Carl Vinson's Sailors got to receive their hugs a little early. Relatives of Sailors on board -- a total of 975 people from all corners of the country -- embarked aboard Carl Vinson in Hawaii and San Diego to spend time with their loved ones through Operation Tiger Cruise 2002.
As the guests checked aboard the ship they received a tiger cruise book, a variety of Carl Vinson souvenirs and a personal qualification standard (PQS) booklet they completed for certification as an official Enduring Freedom Carl Vinson Tiger. The PQS booklets contained a schedule for tours of the ship, as well as a schedule for presentations from the hangar bay where tigers could view firefighting, security and static aircraft displays.
During the cruise, tigers witnessed the aircraft in action Jan. 15, when Carrier Air Wing 11 presented an air-power demonstration from the flight deck.
"That air-power show was beyond any expectation I had -- and I saw one on the Stennis," said Denise C. Brumpton, the mother of Intelligence Specialist 2nd Class (SW) Ryan W. Brumpton. "But this one was really something else. It was awesome."
As much as she enjoyed the air show, Brumpton said the highlight of her visit was the unclassified Enduring Freedom brief presented by Cmdr. Eileen F. Mackrell, staff intelligence officer for Carrier Group 3 embarked on board Carl Vinson.
"Everyone on this ship should see that," said Brumpton, referring to the briefing. "The presenter was very articulate, and it gave me an overall feeling of the camaraderie of the crew. It put tears in my eyes. When I was at home, I prayed for Ryan and everyone on the ship every night."
Brumpton, along with more than 650 other tigers and the personnel from the air wing, departed the ship Jan. 19 in San Diego. From there, a new group of 225 tigers came aboard for the last leg of the cruise.
Among the new arrivals was the oldest tiger on board. Eighty-two-year-old retired Army Col. Carlton Henning got his first opportunity to visit his grandson, Machinist's Mate 1st Class Carlton A. Henning, at sea.
"When he told me about this, I said, 'How do you get me on?'" said Henning. "I've only seen my grandson in port, so I liked the opportunity to get on a moving vessel and see what it's like 24 hours a day."
The WW II and Korean War veteran was positive and enthusiastic about the entire cruise, but his knees didn't care much for the ladders. "We didn't have all these stairs in the Army," Henning said, smiling. "It was easier to dig a foxhole than it was to climb up and down all those stairs."
Henning came aboard with his son, a National Guardsman, also named Carlton. The three Hennings agreed that they were really enjoying their time together on board the ship.
Like the three generations of Hennings, the tigers enjoyed spending time together on the ship learning about the many different jobs on board. Besides the tours of the Sailors' work centers and briefs, Morale, Welfare and Recreation sponsored contests, physical training workouts were held in the aircraft hangar bay and the cooks served pizza and ice cream on the mess decks.
Aviation Structural Mechanic Airman Apprentice Tamsen L. Jenkins' brother Evan W. Jenkins enjoyed not just the ice cream, but also the time with his sister. "It's cool to see what my sister is doing and meet all her friends," he said.
For some like Nicole M. Delmatier, sister of Aviation Structural Mechanic 3rd Class (Safety Equipment) Robert Delmatier, the short deployment on board Carl Vinson gave her the opportunity to learn about her brother's job and to see what life at sea is really like.
"I like seeing how the ship runs," Delmatier said. "Every time I'd try to e-mail him, all he would write is, send more cookies. Being here, I got to follow him around and learn a lot more."
The tigers visited their Sailors through one of three options: the first offered a 10-day tour from Hawaii to Bremerton; the second allowed tiger departure in San Diego and appealed to the majority of relatives sponsored by the departing air wing personnel; the last option was a shorter, three-day tour from San Diego to Bremerton, where tigers would be on board to witness the homecoming of Carl Vinson and her crew.
For more information on USS Carl Vinson, go to http://www.cvn70.navy.mil.