USS Bataan Welcomes Aboard Friends, Family for Three-Day Tiger Cruise

USS Bataan Welcomes Aboard Friends, Family for Three-Day Tiger Cruise

Sailors and Marines aboard multipurpose amphibious assault ship USS Bataan (LHD 5) welcomed aboard friends and family for a three-day Tiger Cruise Feb. 5-7.

Bataan’s “Tigers” – a term describing the friends and family members of the crew – were transported via bus from Norfolk, Va., to Morehead City, N.C., to meet the ship as it prepared to return from a 10 1/2 month deployment in support of maritime security operations in the U.S. 5th and 6th fleet areas of responsibility.

Riding the ship for the 327 mile journey home to Norfolk offered more than 500 Tigers aboard the chance to experience daily shipboard life. For many, this marks their first experience on a U.S. Navy ship underway.

“I’ve been on ships in port before, but this is my first Tiger Cruise,” said Zach Pierce, a high school senior from Chesapeake, Va. “The people have been friendly. I like how the ship is organized and I’m excited to see it all.”

Pierce, a freestyle sprinter and captain of his school’s swim team, said he is interested in the Navy’s special warfare combatant craft (SWCC) program, but is keeping all post-high school options open.

“Having Tigers on board is a great way to thank our families and loved ones for the exceptional support they’ve given us these past several months,” said Capt. George Vassilakis, Bataan’s executive officer. “We’re delighted to show them what it is we do.”

The ship planned several events to make the Tiger Cruise experience special. Bataan service members had the opportunity to watch the Super Bowl XLVI with their loved ones and enjoy football fare such as fried chicken, potato chips and fresh vegetables. The ship also hosted an ice-cream social.

Shortly after getting underway from Morehead City Feb. 6, Tigers were treated to a special fly-by demonstration from two F/A-18 Hornets assigned to the “Gunslingers” of Strike Fighter Squadron One Zero Five (VFA 105).

“That fly-by just made me proud,” said Joanne Kohnen, from Leslie, Mo. “I’ve been looking forward to this Tiger Cruise from the moment my son wrote they were having one. When I think of the sacrifices and the hard work you do to keep us safe, all I can say is ‘thank you’.”

Her son, Engineman Fireman Recruit Benjamin Kohnen, said that he was proud to show his mom the equipment he operates and give her a tour of the engineering work spaces.

“It means a lot that she came out here,” said Kohnen, finishing his first deployment. “She’s supportive of what I’ve chosen and she’s interested in what I do. She sent care packages throughout deployment, not just for me but for the 50-plus people in my division. It meant a lot to me and to them.”

While this is the first underway experience for some Tigers, other Tigers are former Sailors.

“I came here to support [my daughter] and show her we appreciate what she’s doing,” said John Collandra, from Jacksonville, Fla., who spent 20 years in the Navy as an aviation ordnanceman. “I’m proud of her, and I’m proud of all the Sailors.”

“It’s nice sharing this experience with [my dad],” said Ens. Hillary Collandra. “He’s been in the Navy and he knows what deployments are like. Having my dad and brother out here is like a long distance race where someone meets you near the end and helps you push to the finish line.”

Bataan deployed March 23, 2011 three months ahead of schedule as part of the Bataan Amphibious Ready Group (ARG) in support of NATO-lead Operation Unified Protector. The BATARG’s deployment is the longest in 40 years.

Naval Today Staff , February 08, 2012; Image: navy