Last summer, KLMJ listeners were able to learn about life onboard a United States aircraft carrier. Station Manager Craig Donnelly's son, Jonathan, is a crew member onboard the USS Carl Vinson. In June 2011, Craig had an opportunity to sail home from Hawaii with his son Jon to the Carl Vinson's home port in San Diego on what the Navy calls a tiger cruise. This Friday, Craig will join Jon again as the carrier returns home from a 176-day deployment in the Pacific and Indian Oceans. Craig's daily reports from last year's tiger cruise including pictures, videos and interviews with local sailors serving on the Carl Vinson are back online at . Starting Friday Craig will begin filing new reports and updates from his 2012 tiger cruise. Also serving on the Carl Vinson from Hampton are Nate Dirksen and Sean Weber.  All three are Hampton-Dumont graduates--Donnelly and Dirksen in 2008, and Weber in 2007.


Jon & Craig Donnelly At Pearl Harbor


Thursday, 20:21

Just getting ready to board the USS Carl Vinson in Pearl Harbor. It's been a good, but short 48 hours in Hawaii. It's always good to see your son when you haven't seen him in 9 months. The Carl Vinson, CVN70, has been Jon's home for the last 21 months. The sailors are coming back from their 2nd deployment in as many years. They sailed from their home port of San Diego last November 30th. During the Vinson's deployment the carrier made port stops in Hong Kong, Dubai twice, India, and Australia.  I encourage readers to revisit my tiger cruise reports from June of 2011 that are online here at I will try not to duplicate information from last year's tiger cruise and instead give readers a fresh insight into this unique experience-- sailing home with my son on a nuclear-powered U-S aircraft carrier. Jon says his friends onboard can't believe I came back for a 2nd tiger cruise. They told him I must be a sucker for punishment. The two big reasons were of course first to see Jon, and then to watch them launch and recover aircraft. Jon says they are taking on between 900 and 1,000 family members and friends of sailors--they call us tigers. Last year I talked with the tiger cruise director about the history of tiger cruising and he said they've been going on for over two decades but had no clue why the Navy calls them tiger cruises. Jon just said we sail tomorrow morning at ten hundred, (10:00 a.m). I better get a good night's sleep. Sleeping in a Navy coffin rack can be hard to get used to; last year one tiger cruiser checked off the ship before we even sailed.


Friday, 05:13

Some background on the USS Carl Vinson. It was commissioned 30 years ago this past March. Cost to build was 3.8 billion dollars. It has two nuclear reactors, can reach speeds of 30-plus knots, it is 23 stories tall, 1,115 feet long, displaces 95,000 tons, has a 4-and-a half-acre flight deck, there are four 3800-square-foot aircraft elevators, 4 steam catapults, and 4 arresting-gear cables. The Carl Vinson galley serves around 20,000 meals a day.

The United States operates a fleet of 11 aircraft carriers. Ten of them are Nimitz-Class nuclear carriers. The 50-year-old USS Enterprise is currently on its final deployment and is scheduled to be decommissioned. A new Ford-Class carrier is currently under construction.

The Vinson is home to eight air squadrons of Carrier Air Wing 17. On board are F/A-18 Hornets, F/A-18E/F Super Hornets, SH-60F/Seahawk helicopters, C-2A Greyhounds, E-2CHawkeyes, and EA-6B Prowlers. There are approximately 1500 sailors attached to the air wing who fly, arm and maintain the aircraft.

The Carl Vinson is one of our nation's primary on-call assets in times of need, and enables the Navy to execute the six core capabilities of our nation's maritime strategy---forward presence, deterrence, sea control, power projection, maritime security and humanitarian assistance/disaster response.



Saturday, May 19, 2012


Now I remember having a hard time adjusting to the five-hour time difference.  

Yesterday’s highlights were muster (07:00),  departmental tiger meeting (08:30),  lunch (10:00), Captain’s welcome (13:00), Tiger Cruise 2012 aerial photo (14:00), daytime gun shoot (15:30), dinner (16:00), man-overboard drill (19:00), movie (20:00), lights out (22:30).  

Muster is where Jon reports to his work station.   Jon serves in engineering department, Division A.  Jon mainly works on the hydraulics that raise and lower the four aces (aircraft elevators) on the ship.  He also works in steering and anchors.   His hours have changed a bit from last year.  He now works from 23:00 to 11:00 (11:00 p.m. to 11:00 a.m.), six days a week.  He normally eats breakfast around 03:00, lunch after his shift and skips dinner because he is sleeping. 

The food is better than I remember from a year ago.  I had Halibut for lunch yesterday and chicken wings and barbeque beef for dinner last night.  I was dreading sleeping in the coffin racks, but have adjusted well. 

The aerial photo takes 30 to 40 minutes to set up.  Nearly 2000 people (tigers and their sponsors) laid out to spell “Tiger Cruise 2012”, taken from one of the seahawk helicopters.   Following the photo op, the seahawk dropped flares into the ocean ahead of the carrier on both sides.  Fifty-five caliber machine guns  took aim on the targets and let go.   The noise is deafening.  Jon says the ship has nine fixed-gun mounts around the carrier. 

The man overboard drill is not like it sounds.  The entire ship musters and roll call is taken.   I remember hearing a news account several years ago where a sailor was blown off a carrier in the Indian Ocean.   He was not discovered missing for three days.   The sailor was trained for ocean survival and knew that his shipmates would return for him.    They did--it just took a few days.  

This year’s tiger cruise has more couples, husbands and wives visiting their sons or daughters.  There is a large number of children, sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, nieces, and nephews of sailors.   The main event, the airshow is tomorrow.  The flyoffs will be held Monday and Tuesday.    Just the helicopters will remain onboard when we pull into port.  

A few highlights from the Carl Vinson’s deployment this year:  The first ever “Carrier Classic”, an NCAA  basketball game featuring North Carolina and Michigan State was played on the deck of the Carl Vinson just a few days before the ship sailed.  A banner marking the event hangs in the ship's hanger bay.   In February the ship lost a crew member in a non-combat-related incident during a port visit in Dubai. The crew said the sailor drowned.   During the Carl Vinson’s deployment  1,085 combat missions were flown from the Vinson, over 6,600 flight hours.  On May 1st, Commander Fernando Garcia achieved his 1000th carrier-arrested landing while flying an F-18 Super Hornet.  


Sunday May 20, 2012 06:33

Yesterday's highlights:  Muster, an ordnance-loading demonstration, advance clocks, aerial ops, and chapel. One tiger told me the three things not to miss each day are breakfast, lunch and dinner. I did all three today. Following muster each day are 45 minutes of cleaning stations. Each department has their own areas of the ship to keep clean. The ordnance-loading demonstration was interesting. I have a 20-minute video I will load to this site when I return. The redshirts demonstrated how they load a rocket to the underside of an F-18. Advancing clocks doesn't seem like a big deal to me, but the sailors are now only two time zones away from their home port and family and friends. Jon said they had to repeat one whole day this deployment--he said that was frustrating. Aerial operations (ops) wasn't even on the day's schedule but word got around the ship to the tigers. Starting at 13:00, tigers started to cram Vulture's Row (the part of the conning tower open to the crew and their tigers). You need ear protection there. They launched 2 Seahawk helicopters, a Hawkeye, 2 Prowlers, and a host of F-18s. It really is indescribable: The roar of the engines, the power and speed of the planes. I have several videos to post when I return. They did two low-pass runs that broke the sound barrier, an aerial refueling demo, mock dogfights, bombing and strafing runs. Today is the scheduled air show followed by a sea show with a guided missile cruiser. Jon and I attended Catholic Mass on the ship last night. The ship's chapel will hold around 40 people. They have a Catholic priest onboard who holds daily mass. The Vinson also has two other lay ministers who hold regular services for 9 different denominations.

This year there are 938 tigers cruising with their family and friends onboard. In the ship's daily newspaper they reported that the Vinson transited the Strait of Hormuz four times on this deployment. They hosted former CBS Evening News anchor and 60 Minutes correspondent Dan Rather, who was producing a segment for his Dan Rather Reports TV-news magazine during one of the transits. In one of the ships "cods" I saw where he signed his autograph inside the plane's passenger compartment.

It's Sunday. The ship operates on a holiday schedule. No reveille, no muster, no cleaning stations. Sailors are sleeping in. Just a skeleton crew on duty. I am in the lounge just outside Jon's berthing writing this report and watching CNN's State of the Union with Candy Crowley. A friend of Jon's told me that this is the Vinson's 3rd tiger cruise in as many years. After three years in dry dock in Norfolk Virginia where the ship was refitted with a new nuclear power plant, the Vinson responded to the Haiti earthquake providing aid to the country. I know that former KLMJ intern Andrew Mollenbeck, who now works for CBS Radio, was on the Vinson at that time filing reports for the network. After providing earthquake relief in Haiti, the Vinson picked up family and friends in Florida and rounded the horn of South America on a tiger cruise to their homeport in San Diego. Jon joined the ship a few months later.




Sunday, May 20, 2012   18:15    Today's highlights:  Air and Sea Power Demos. The Air Power Show started at 13:00 and lasted a couple of hours. You can watch "Top Gun" a hundred times but it's like times a hundred when you can see it, hear it, and feel it for yourself. When recovering the aircraft from the show today, one F-18 did a fly-by (he passed on attempting to land his plane). He missed his next two attempts to "hook" one of the four arresting gears. On his next attempt his plane's hook hit the wire but couldn't snag it. He finally landed his plane on his fifth pass and received a round of applause from the tigers. The Sea Power Demo included the guided missile cruiser Bunker Hill and the destroyer Halsey. Jon says that another Hampton native, Josh Uribe, H-D class of 2008, is a crew member on the Halsey. The crew of Carl Vinson (5,600) is bigger than the town of Hampton. I am trying to locate Nate Dirksen and Sean Weber to get a picture of the three Hampton sailors. Jon says he saw Sean, a logistics specialist, once from a distance since we left Hawaii. Dirksen, an aviation boatswains mate handler, we have been told is working nights.

Tomorrow a steel beach picnic is scheduled for the flight deck. Jon says they will grill on the deck and have games, basketball, sumo wrestling, etc. on the flight deck. Fly-offs for the air wing are set for Tuesday. Today the captain said we were 960 nautical miles from San Diego and on schedule to arrive Wednesday morning.

Monday, May 21st, 2012   07:24     Overnight we crossed another time zone, now just one hour difference from San Diego, and three from Hampton. They had a burial at sea this morning. Jon said they have one every month or so for former Navy personnel. Mike Ball, who manages Allison Hardware, is a former Navy sailor who served aboard carriers. He has told me he was involved in numerous burial-at-sea ceremonies.




Monday May 21, 2012   14:40  Today's highlight:  The steel beach party--my first. Jon says they do one or two each deployment. The galley is closed. All the meals are served up top on the flight deck. The line started near the island (conning tower), went to the bow of the ship, around the bow, then back to the arresting gear area and across the carrier where the crew and tigers were served grilled burgers, hot dogs, and chicken with potato salad, sweet corn, chips, cookies and pop. In the middle of the ship they had basketball, sumo wrestling, football and soccer balls, ping pong, break dancing etc. The wait for chow was an hour and a half.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012  06:05   They just sounded reveille. The steel beach party ended last night at 17:45. We grabbed a burger (no line) just before they closed up shop. At sunset we went topside to  Vulture's Row. It was windy and cold, but the plane handlers were out and busy reconfiguring the planes, clearing the runways for today's fly-off that is supposed to start around 07:00. The ship was really rocking and rolling this morning. Must be heavy seas. It's the first time I have really noticed any motion. I think I will skip breakfast this morning. This afternoon at 12:45 Jon's division has quarters in the forecastle. Promotions during the past six-month deployment will be handed out and presented. We will cross our last time zone change this afternoon at 13:00. The air wing started packing up their equipment last night, boxing and crating it and loading it on pallets in the hanger bays. Jon says their equipment will be the first thing unloaded tomorrow. It will be transported to the Navy airfield on Coronado Island and then flown on large Navy transport planes to their homeland bases. We are scheduled to arrive tomorrow between 09:00 and 10:00.




Wednesday, May 23rd, 2012  11:02

Bag packed and ready to go home. Being in the Navy for 6 days a year satisfies my urge to go military. Kudos to the Navy cooks, the food was a lot better this year. I think I slept a lot better this year, too. After muster and cleaning stations Jon donned his dress whites and manned the rails for our entry into San Diego Bay. It takes almost two hours to bring the ship into port and dock. Several hundred sailors man the rails all the way around the carrier. They are at ease for the most part, at attention for the last 15 minutes. There were around a thousand people at the pier to welcome home their husbands and wives, sons and daughters, moms and dads. Patriotic music was playing in the background. Jon says the Navy has no future plans for another deployment for the Vinson in the near future. He says the Navy plans numerous updates to the thirty-plus- year-old warship, including updating the berthing areas where the sailors sleep. Jon just found out yesterday that he is approved to live in barracks on base. For the past 21 months, the USS Carl Vinson has been his home. I think he is looking forward to the change. Starting today he will also have a new responsibility on the ship, still in A Division, but working in a different shop that works on the rigid boats onboard. When I return to Hampton tomorrow I will post videos from the trip.




     Click Here For The 2011 Tiger Cruise