Earning his stripes on a ‘Tiger Cruise’

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America’s Independence Day is a holiday synonymous with family, patriotism, fireworks and food. For ESPN Event Operations Manager Steve Carter, the Fourth of July came early this year.

Carter’s 20-year-old son Patrick is a Personnel Specialist 3 for the U.S. Navy and has spent the past few months being deployed on the USS Carl Vinson aircraft carrier.

Whenever a long deployment wraps up, all personnel are allowed to invite family and friends to join in on the last leg of the journey. This experience is known as a “Tiger Cruise.”

So on the evening of June 9,  Steve and 940 other civilians joined the 5,000-member crew of the USS Carl Vinson for a 7-day Tiger Cruise from Pearl Harbor to San Diego, Calif.

Incidentally, it’s all but certain that the Michigan State-North Carolina men’s basketball game on Veterans Day will be played aboard the same aircraft carrier.

Upon his return to Bristol, Steve sat down with Front Row to recap his once-in-a-lifetime experience, just in time for the actual Fourth of July holiday.

FR: How did you get the opportunity to participate in a Tiger Cruise?

SC: The Navy allows personnel to bring family onboard the aircraft carrier for the last week of deployment. Only close family and friends (excluding husbands, wives and significant others) can be invited. Once Patrick asked me to join him, I had to add my name to a waiting list, have a full physical to indicate I was healthy enough to participate, and then hopefully land one of the spaces available. Roughly 950 people were selected from more than 1,500 applicants.

FR: What was it like joining your son on board?

SC: This was the first opportunity for me to see Patrick at work. As a parent, I was incredibly proud to see my son taking on so many challenges and being so well respected among his peers and superiors. But a Tiger Cruise is hardly what we envision when the word “cruise” comes to mind. The Navy wants this experience to feel as much like deployment as possible.

From sleeping in tiny barracks, to eating food in a mess hall at 5:30 a.m., to climbing through portholes on ladders and seeing 500-pound bombs firsthand, this cruise was hardly leisurely. But I left in awe of what these Navy crewmembers do on a daily basis.

FR: What did you find most interesting about this experience?

SC: Well, the average age of this ship is 19. And these crewmembers are trained to handle so many different situations that seem unfathomable to the average person.  These young adults are capable of everything from keeping the carrier clean, stocked and on course to launching ships and nuclear reactors; they are essentially running a city floating at sea.

FR: How do you keep in touch with Patrick when he is deployed?

SC: Believe it or not, I learn more about Patrick’s journey through the USS Carl Vinson’s official Facebook page than anything else.  In somewhat of a career crossover (Steve mainly works with the Monday Night Football Event Production crew), I learned the Green Bay Packers visited the carrier after winning the Super Bowl.

However, the page never mentions where they are headed and when, but only where they have been and what they have done. A lack of details is crucial to the safety of the men and women on board.  But Patrick isn’t tethered to the Carl Vinson. As a member of the Strike Fighter Squadron, he’ll be deployed wherever they go.

FR: Any final thoughts on joining your son for the Tiger Cruise?

SC: Never pass up the opportunity to be a part of something like this. Before I went, I was excited, but I returned feeling in awe and inspired. It truly was a once in a lifetime experience. And we thought working for ESPN was cool…

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