Travis Silvas
Contributing Writer

(Photo by Deb Maleski)

As the roar of the jet engines thundered across the flight deck of the USS Carl Vinson, Susan Drapek felt as if her entire body could explode.

“It was a pretty amazing experience,” Drapek said of her five-day stint aboard the aircraft carrier this past February.

Drapek was a guest of her daughter, MC2 Larissa Dougherty, as part of a special Navy program called a Tiger Cruise. The program allows civilians, typically family and friends of deployed sailors, to sail on a Navy ship for a short period, usually the last leg of a deployment. Drapek sailed alongside her daughter from Honolulu to San Diego, shadowing Dougherty in her role as a member of the Navy’s media team.

“When you’re on the ship you have to stick with your sailor,” Drapek said. “My daughter’s job is in media so she was all over the ship, up in the bridge, down below, on the flight deck … we were everywhere.”

Over the course of five days, Drapek got to experience nearly every aspect of Navy life, including a couple days of shore leave. She participated in activities and demonstrations to showcase a sailor’s emergency preparedness. She saw the seriousness in which sailors must respond and focus in a crisis during a “Viper Drill.”

“They have to be prepared for any situation that may arise out on the ocean,” she said. “They were all dead serious. You walk around and realize they are just kids … they are so young, but everything went off like clockwork.”

Tiger Cruises are a chance for families to connect and for civilians to gain a unique perspective on Navy life. Sailors get to show their families their workplace and daily routines, while families gain a deeper understanding of the sailor’s life at sea.

Drapek said she was fortunate to get the full experience as her daughter’s role allowed for access to most areas and aspects of the ship, including the flight deck when the jets were preparing to take off.

“It was just a cool way to connect with the military,” she said.

And, an amazing experience to share with her daughter.