- USS Milius Tiger Cruise 2009: A Blog
Please note that you can click on any photo to view the full sized photo — or open any video on a new screen to view in full screen.
In March of 2009 I received an Email from my brother Kendall Gennick, the Commanding Officer (CO) of the USS Milius, inviting me to participate in their Tiger Cruise. Here is a photo of my brother and I. The basic premise of a Tiger Cruise is to spend about a week aboard a US Naval ship with one of your family members that serve on that ship, and to experience what life is like for them. This cruise typically takes place on the final leg of the return trip of a deployment. In my case, since the Milius’ home port is a San Diego, this cruise originated in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii on June 26 and finals in San Diego, California on July 2.
The time spent between March and June was spent in planning for time off, arranging travel, and completing forms (including medical qualifications) with the Navy. In my case, I chose to fly down to Honolulu on the 21st and spend a few days exploring the islands prior to departure.
About the Ship
The USS Milius is an Arleigh-Burke Class guided Aegis Destroyer. It usually has around 270 sailors on board, and recently returned from a 7 month deployment in the Persian Gulf. The ship is named for Captn. Paul Milius – a Naval pilot who went MIA in 1968, and later was determined to have been KIA.
Day One (June 26)
Today actually started yesterday evening and last night for all of us Tigers because we were required to be onboard to ensure an on time departure. For me, the anticipation, excitement and new surroundings created an environment in which I didn’t sleep at all. I just laid in my rack until 5AM when I decided that it wasn’t too early to get up and start the day. My room is located right next door to my brothers “Captains Quarters” and is called the Commodore Room. We put the chair there to help me get up into the top bunk, since there didn’t really seem to be an easy way to do it. It is equipped with a computer and limited internet access, TV and DVD player, 2 bunk beds and a locker style set of drawers and closet space. The room also has a private bathroom and shower called the head. I am rooming with a great guy named Brian Collier who is a Commander (rank) and will become the new XO (2nd in command) for the Milius as soon as she docks in San Diego. Here is a short video tour of the ship.
After managing to figure out how to operate the shower and getting cleaned up, I went into my brothers office and got his money card (the ship does not use cash) and went down 2 decks to the Diet Coke machine. Since I don’t like coffee, I usually drink a couple Diet Cokes in the morning to facilitate in waking up. These Diet Cokes were interesting because they had a bunch of Arabic writing on them and then the English translation to Coca Cola Light. They do taste a little different and quite honestly I can’t tell whether they are better or worse. So I guess I will say they are just as good.
I then walked up 4 decks and went through an air lock to get out onto the bridge. From there I walked out onto the bridge wing and enjoyed my Arabian Diet Coke while overlooking Pearl Harbor and making my last phone call home. As soon as we leave the Hawaiian Islands there is no telephone or wireless internet service available to us Tigers.
As soon as 6AM rolled around I found my way back down 2 decks to the deck that I’m living on and then went over to the wardroom (what they call the dining room for officers) for breakfast. I couldn’t figure out how everyone seemed to be eating eggs cooked personally when all there was on the buffet was kind of gross looking scrambled eggs, and I must have looked a little confused because one of the officers got up and helped me fill out a little form for a special order breakfast. I ordered an omelet with onions, peppers and cheese and it was actually very good. After finishing breakfast I went over to Kendall’s quarters just as he was starting to get up. Since we were leaving, and pulling out of port is one of the busier times on the ship, he didn’t really have much time to visit. I went back to my room and read a book for about an hour.
Leaving port actually started quite a bit before we left, and it was an exciting time to be on the bridge. Prior to departure, the tug boats hooked up to the side of the ship and a guest pilot boarded the bridge. His job was to act as a consultant to Kendall and help navigate out of Pearl Harbor. As we were leaving the port, we could see the memorial for the USS Arizona and also the USS Missouri was docked there. The USS Missouri is famous because it was aboard her that the papers were signed that ended WWII. We then navigated through a narrow spot and out to open sea where our initial views included Diamond Head and Waikiki..
And here are a couple videos of the our departure:
At 10:00AM all of us Tigers (45 total) assembled in the mess deck for our initial briefing. We watched a welcome/familiarization/safety video that included a lot of humor with information and were given talks by a lot of the department heads briefly covering what their areas did. We were also given a list of things that we would need to accomplish and have signed off on prior to our arrival in San Diego. Some of these things will be done as a group and some we need to take the initiative to find a sailor in that area and learn one on one from him/.her. These are fun and exciting things to do, so it is not like work at all.
That meeting wrapped up just in time for lunch. Even though I had taken Dramamine prior to departure, I still wasn’t feeling that great. I forced myself to eat some fruit and a small salad and then I went back to my room and lay down for a while. I also learned the proper protocol for eating in the wardroom. When I enter, I need to ask the highest level officer permission to join them — and when I’m finished, I need to ask the highest level officer to be excused.
I started feeling a little better just as they started a Man Overboard Drill. All of us Tigers had to immediately assemble in the mess hall for muster. After that the Corp Man (similar to a ships doctor) talked to us about how we were feeling and offered a lot of tips and his services. Then we broke up into smaller groups for a tour of the ship.
Even though I was a little uneasy feeling, this part of the cruise so far was awesome. We went to the room where all the missiles are stored and ready for launch. It was very cool – the temperature has to remain that way. The sailor that talked to us about that room told us a story from this deployment when they were over in the Middle East where one of the Tomahawks couldn’t be fired from its current position. So they had to move it to another slot using the onboard crane while at sea. She mentioned that it was about the most nerve wracking experience of the whole deployment for her since she was the one at the crane’s controls.
We then went to a room where they have a lot of hand guns. I forget the purpose of the room, but the guns were incredible. The sailor there let us all pose with a variety of weapons while we all had pictures taken of ourselves. Here is an attempt of me trying to look like a badass with one of the guns.
From there we went to the engine room. We all had to wear ear plugs and it was really difficult to hear the guy talking to us. The one cool thing from this part of the tour that I did catch was that the engines are actually started with compressed air. The things I had learned earlier from my brother is that it takes about 70 – 100 gallons of gas to move the ship every mile (depending on wind, waves, etc). Personally, I’m extremely interested in this part of the ship and my brother has said that he’d arrange a 1 on 1 for later in the week where I can actually hear the guy and also go into areas that wouldn’t have been fun for a lot of people.
We then went to the CIC room which is like command central for firing the different weapon systems aboard. I got to shoot down a pretend airplane with a pretend missile!!! It amazed me at how impersonal it was. It was more like playing a video game – with the exception that you don’t miss – the computers make sure that you don’t. This room had a lot more stuff like that in there, but it was like brain overload and I can’t remember in enough detail now. I think I’ll be spending an afternoon there in the upcoming days. Unfortunately, they didn’t let us take any pictures in that room.
We then went to where the guy runs the 5” guns and he did a demonstration showing how fast he could reload and shoot. It is a massive and load machine that I’m sure can cause a lot of damage. We’ll be shooting the guns on the 29th.
From there we went to the Sonar room. This is the room where people are looking for submarines through a variety of tactics. It was kind of fascinating even though they tended to talk over my head a little bit. You could see their enthusiasm though as they pointed at the lines on their sound screens and showed us what they had determined to be a whale. We’ll be visiting Sonar again before the week is over.
We then went to the bridge where I actually got to drive the boat! I guess I was the most excited of the group because I was the first for some reason. Blue Jacket Doble was the helmsman when I walked over to take the wheel. Right before I got there he gave it a mighty spin and then stood back while I tried to figure out what to do. It was actually quite humorous. With a lot of help and instruction I kind of got the hang of it, but never truly well. At one point my brother yelled out from his seat “Watch the Helm” which he later explained was a standard command when the helmsman wasn’t following course. I think he did it when I was there since he knew I would laugh about it rather than let it hurt my feelings. Here is a short video including me concentrating WAY TOO MUCH at trying to drive the ship:
The tour ended about 3 hours after it had started and just in time for dinner. For some reason, all of the information and excitement had totally removed the queasiness that I’d experienced earlier, and I was ravenous.
After dinner, we all went downstairs for “French Fry Night” and Kendall had arranged a “movie night” in his quarters for a small group of us. It was a great movie called The History of Violence. When it was over, having not slept at all the previous night, I was exhausted. I took another Dramamine and went to bed around 11 PM. Here are some photo’s of his quarters.
Day Two (June 27)
Today I didn’t get up until 6AM. Then I had to shower and eat before they closed breakfast at 7AM. Another great meal, and according to my brother, breakfast is the consistently best meal of the day. From there, we went down to the mess deck for muster where the Corp Man told us some interesting stuff about the way we were feeling. I guess that a lot of the Tigers were way worse off than the occasional bout of queasiness that I endured the first day. He also stressed the drinking plenty of water – because, unbeknownst to us, our bodies were actually getting a huge workout just maintaining balance in an environment we aren’t used to. We then proceeded back to the flight deck for a Man Overboard and Recovery demonstration. Due to the high seas, my brother cancelled that demonstration to be rescheduled for later in the week.
So we then went right into the VBSS demonstration. I’m not sure what the initials mean, but it is basically when the Navy needs to board another ship with or without permission – and it showed some of the tactics and equipment that they could utilize. The members of this team are all trained by Navy Seals.
They had to cut that demonstration short as well due to the weather, so I finally had a few free minutes to go over the checklist that I had been given. I started on some of the ones where I actually knew right off the bat who could help me with them. So I went up to the bridge. While I was learning about anchors, strikes, fathoms, whistles and bells, the people on the bridge were already positioning the boat for our next activity – the streaming of the TACTAS. The tactas is a cable that goes out about 5000 feet and trails the ship. Its only purpose is to hunt and track submarines. It was interesting (probably because I hadn’t thought that much about it) that the people in the front of the ship actually ran the operation. Initially by setting speed and angle and direction to ensure that the cable wouldn’t get caught by the massive propellers – and then by actually talking to the people in the room where the cable was being let out very slowly. In one of these photo’s you can actually seeing them make a small repair to the cable. The cable goes through a watering process to check for leaks, and then is watered down once again when it is pulled back into the ship to rinse it from the salt water.
Then it was time for lunch. I was a little worried about eating too much because or what was to come next – but my hunger took over.
So right after lunch at around 1PM I made sure that I was up on the bridge for what was called a ASW evasion demonstration. This is basically driving the ship in such a manner as to trick a torpedo that had (in pretend for purposes of the demonstration) been fired upon us. This is one of the coolest things I’ve ever witnessed – and I put together a small video showing some of the action.
Here is some video I took during the evolution:
Following that I worked on a couple more things on the checklist – including talking with both the conning officer (the person that stands on the bridge and looks ahead) and their counterpart that stands on the aft of the ship.
Then, since I was already on the aft of the ship, I was perfectly positioned to attend the DC demo. DC stands for damage control – and in this demo we basically saw stuff pertaining to fire. I really wasn’t looking forward to this item on the schedule because I thought it would be somewhat boring. BUT, I was pleasantly surprised to see how much fun they made it for us. They let us get dressed up in gear, both the regular fire suit and also the one that you can actually walk into fire with – and they also let us shoot the fire hose. There was also this neat piece of equipment that they had that could literally cut through steel. The only thing they weren’t able to show us was the thing that they throw overboard to suck up the water to shoot through the hose. Once again, this was a result of high seas.
From that demonstration I went up to my brothers room and visited with him until dinnertime. It really amazes me how little time off he actually has. It seems like every 5 minutes someone is standing at his door with something else to review and sign off on.
It was pizza night – and, although the pizza on board a Navy ship isn’t the same as in New York City, it was still pretty good.
Afterwards, they had nacho’s set up downstairs, where we all got a plate full and came back up to Kendall’s quarters. Since the younger Tigers wanted to watch a more teenage oriented movie, I happily went back to my room where I rested for a couple hours before going to bed.
Day Three (June 28)
Today is Sunday, and after the last couple of exhausting days, I was ready for a more relaxed day.
So I slept in until 9AM – and then went over and visited with my brother and the other Tigers (family) that he had invited.
It was a slow morning, we had missed breakfast so when lunch time rolled around, we were ready for it.
I had a huge lunch and then went back to my room to rest. My roommate (the new XO of the ship) wasn’t busy and so we were actually able to visit until he was called away.
At 3PM I had been invited to Ops/Intel briefing that they hold every day – and it was really cool. They actually told us that tomorrow we’ll be shooting the guns!!! ALL of us Tigers have been really looking forward to that part of the trip.
After dinner Kendall arranged for a personal tour of the engine room. Jim the officer over that part of the ship brought me down there and reintroduced me to a sailor by the name of Dunlap. Fortunately, he was the same guy that gave the tour yesterday (since he really knows that area well). Once again I had to don ear pieces that pretty much made it impossible to hear the guy. I don’t know if it was him – or if I just wouldn’t be able to hear anyone down there. I did take pictures though – and at the end of the tour we got to see some schematics which pretty much mad all of the individual components that I was having difficulty hearing about make more sense. Here are some of the photo’s of the components and then the schematics. We weren’t able to photograph the actual engines in use because they have a fire protection system that could potentially recognize the flash of my camera as fire. According to Dunlap, that has happened occasionally in the past.
After touring the engine room, Kendall asked Marty (the ships Chief Navigator) if he would bring me down to show me what the general berthing area of the ship looked like. They didn’t have near as much room as we did upstairs — and their quarters are inspected by the XO EVERY DAY — because as you can see, with what limited space they have, it could probably go downhill really fast. Here is a photo showing their limited space — the bunks are 3 high and this area berths 78 sailors.
The only activity they have planned for today is a Steel Deck Picnic – which got postponed due to high winds and a poker game that is scheduled for 7PM. The Poker tournament was a BLAST!!! Even though I’m horrible at poker and was the 7th or 8th guy out — it was a lot of fun. SUPRISINGLY, my 16 year old nephew WON the tournament! Here is a photo of him with ALL the chips and his prize (a really cool US NAVY mug).
Day 4 (June 29)
Today is GUN DAY — and once again, I couldn’t sleep last night in anticipation. This is usually the most popular day on any Tiger Cruise. I got up REALLY early and once again had to wait for about an hour before breakfast started. I decided to try the pancakes instead of eggs today — but that was probably a mistake — I’ll definitely remember that for the rest of the cruise. Not because they were bad, just kind of cold.
After breakfast, all of us Tigers met down in the mess hall for muster, and then immediately went back to the flight deck to view the inflation and deployment of the “Killer Tomato”. This inflatable device will be our target for today. One thing I found interesting is that they actually put little anchors on it so that once we demolished it, it would sink to the bottom of the Pacific Ocean. Here is a photo and here is a short video I put together of the process As soon as the Killer Tomato was deployed, I went up to the bridge of the ship where they we then turning around in such a way as to put the target into the appropriate position to shoot at it with the BIG GUNS!!!
The first gun used was the big 5″ gun on the front of the ship. If you expand this picture (by clicking on it) you can see 3 of the guns spent shells lying on the deck (left of the gun) . The shells are HUGE — I’m a normal sized guy and they stand on end up to my waist. My brothers brother-in-law decided that he wanted one — so my brother called the weapons officer and had them retrieve one for him to take home with him. How he gets it onto the airplane is probably a blog for him to talk about — IF he can — LOL… This weapon has a range of 11 miles and an effective range of 5 – 9 miles. In todays demonstration, they only shot about 3 miles and INTENTIONALLY offset the target by 5 degrees so that they wouldn’t demolish it with the first demonstration. I took a video — but even with video you cannot completely tell how POWERFUL this gun is. I would HATE for anyone to have to be at the receiving end. Here is the video
We then went to the CIWS gun (aka the R2D2 gun because it resembles it). The CIWS on the front of the ship is only to shoot down incoming missiles because it has not yet been retrofitted to shoot at sea level like the one on the back of the ship. So once again there was no concern of hitting the target. Here is a video of the front CIWS. as you can see — there were some technical difficulties — so they postponed that demonstration and told all of us Tigers to assemble on the Missile Deck to shoot the fully automatic high calibre machine guns…
They DIDN’T need to ask me twice!!! They had 2 weapons. The first that I chose to shoot was the M240 which is a 7.62mm calibre gun. Most of the Tigers actually tried to hit the Killer Tomato and some of them did — but I figured that I would NEVER have the opportunity to shoot a FULLY AUTOMATIC HIGH CALIBRE machine gun again — so I just LET IT RIP!!! I was shocked at how fast the 20 round supply went — and I’m sure I didn’t come close to hitting the target. Here is a photo of me shooting the M240 and also a video.
We then got to shoot the 50 calibre gun — once again I utilized the same methodology. As you can see in this photo there were a LOT of empty cartridges lying around. Officer Dwan (the weapons officer) picked one of mine up and gave it to me as a souvenir. I don’t know EXACTLY what it is, but shooting these big guns releases endorphins or something and just gives you that AWESOME feeling like you’ve run the Marathon or something.
When everyone was done shooting at the target, it was ALMOST COMPLETELY demolished. Oh — and I wanted to mention that this little girl about 12 was one of the BEST shots. I don’t know if it was just that the sights were eye level, or if she was just a pro — but she really impressed ALL OF US just by the mere fact that she even attempted to shoot the gun — let alone HITTING THE TARGET almost 100%!!! Anyways it is now time for the ships crew to finish the job. Their weapon of choice is the CIWS at the back of the ship (the one that can also shoot at sea level). It OBVIOUSLY didn’t take them long to sink the Killer Tomato — as you can see in this clip. And here is a still photo of it shooting its 300 rounds in a matter of seconds.
I then went back up to the bridge where they had fixed whatever problem they had with the CIWS earlier — and they finished expending the alloted ammunition. Here is a photo of it being shot from above.
I’m not sure of the calibre on the CIWS — but they said that it wasn’t really that important — its main use is to shoot incoming missiles, and because the missiles are traveling at such a high rate of speed (mach 1, 2 or 3) that even the smallest of shells would shatter the missile.
It is now time for lunch — where they offered a beef stir fry and fried fish. I opted for a Black Bean burger — which I was told by Kendall that I could order anytime I couldn’t find anything I like on the menu. Its a good thing that they have a great salad bar — LOL…
and once it reaches a certain altitude it explodes into a giant mushroom cloud of small thin strips of something like aluminum foil. This cloud then creates a HUGE radar image (bigger than the ship) to distract incoming missiles. Unfortunately, as you can see, it was a cloudy day and didn’t bode well for photography of this demonstration. I was told that it looked REALLY COOL on the ships radar but I was down on the flight deck.
After the chaff demonstration, we then went up to the missile deck to watch as they shot grenades off of the flight deck into the ocean. I forget the “kill radius”, but I do remember that these grenades needed to spin so many times in the air before they armed themselves. And they would ONLY explode upon impact once armed. That explains why it seems that only about 50% of them exploded. Here is a short video I took of the grenades.
Once the grenade demonstration was over it was dinnertime already. I had a salad, asparagus and peas. With no sleep the previous night, I snuck back to my room to lay down for a 30 minutes. It was then time to meet down in the mess hall and celebrate everyone’s birthday that was born in June — they had a HUGE cake and it was a lot of fun.
We then once again headed to the missile deck for the last demonstration of the night. This was flares. I was a little concerned that someone might see them and think we needed help, but was assured that there were NO BOATS in a 400 mile radius. This concerned me a little as well — you know, just in case (YIGHTZ — why would I even think such a thing)…
Here is a short video of a couple of the flares. Was I the only one clapping???
After the flare demonstration I once again met up with my brother in his quarters, and we watched another really cool movie called Swordfish.
When the movie was over, I went to bed and had NO PROBLEMS sleeping!!!
A couple things about today that really struck me. First is that REALLY the ONLY reason this ship exists is its weapon systems. And that today (Gun Day) was really what it is all about. Earlier in the cruise my brother proudly stated to me that the Milius is “battle ready”. I asked what he meant by this, and I was told that he meant it was fully capable of performing her duties at a moments notice. Once I got home, I talked to a Navy friend of mine that works on the East Coast, and he told me that although American citizens wouldn’t ACCEPT it, the FACTS are that only about 2/3 of the naval ships are “battle ready”. I found that a little disturbing, but now I understand the pride my brother took in the Milius and her crew.
Day 5 (June 30)
Today started out with another great breakfast — and then we went down to the mess hall for muster. After that, we assembled in small groups to tour the ship during another DC (damage control) demonstration. Each station that we visited kind of was doing the same thing. The sailors were all dressed up in their fire fighting gear and showing us how they enter a space. It was interesting at the first station but quickly became redundant. I kind of sidelined myself in the CIC room and was talking with the sailor that operated the 5 inch gun from yesterday. He was showing me how he can change the ammunition (they have different types of shells for different purposes) from his computer. It was actually quite interesting — BUT — the tour guide FOUND me and said that they could not continue the tour without me — so I was dragged away.
After goofing off for awhile, it was time for lunch — and then we pretty much had the afternoon off. Here are a couple photo’s I took in my brothers quarters while we were all just relaxing. He had to turn all of the computers off before we could take pictures, because the screens are considered secret.
At some point during the afternoon, the Officer of the Deck called everyone on the PA system and alerted us to the fact that there were a LOT of dolphins at the front of the ship. Here is a video I took of them.
Then it was dinner time. After dinner we had an Ice Cream social which was actually GOOD ice cream. The Ice Cream they had upstairs in the Officers Wardroom was from the Middle East — and NO KIDDING — tasted like it had sand in it.
The evening entertainment was Karaoke — and although I have a video of my nephew singing Pinball Wizard — I have promised to NOT post it — LOL…
Day 6 (July 1)
Today is our last full day on board the USS Milius. After breakfast and muster — we all were given sheets outlining a “scavenger hunt”. This was more towards finding obscure facts and places than anything else. Here is one of the answers to the scavenger hung (find the MIA table — whic they always have set with a fresh flower in honor of Captn. Milius)
At one point my brother went up to the bridge for something — and we got this really cool photo of him, myself and my roommate who is now officially the XO of the ship. Notice that as we’re getting closer to California, the water is getting colder — and we had to wear coats.
After lunch, I attended the NAV/OPS/INTEL briefing where everyone went over in minute detail the plans for docking the ship in San Diego tomorrow morning. Shortly after the meeting, we were notified the the Naval Air Station in California had sent a couple of F 18’s our way to welcome the ship home. Here my attempt at videoing EXTREMELY FAST jets. Notice at one point all the white surrounding the plane — I was told that it was because it was flying at the speed of sound.
They were originally only going to do 2 fly by’s — but instead stuck around for 30 – 45 minutes and just did an AMAZING show…
At this point in the voyage — I was really proud of my brother for his accomplishments in the Navy. He started out as an enlisted guy 20 some years ago — and worked his way up through the ranks (they’re called Mustangs) and having seen him do his job — I can say that the Navy is fortunate to have such an incredibly intelligent, pragmatic and level headed guy. Here is a short video of him giving out the Tiger awards — OH, and remember that little girl who shot the 50 calibre with such courage and accuracy? Well, she received a special Helmsman award at the end.
Day 7 (July 2)
WOW!!! I can’t believe that its already our last day aboard the USS Milius. Today started REALLY early, and we got very little sleep last night because we had to change clocks ahead and then get up at 5AM. The sailors are all wearing their white uniforms today — and the excitement is palpable. They are FINALLY coming home after 7 months away at sea.
Here are some photo’s of my brother and other sailors working on the bridge as they navigate their way into a very busy port.
Well — the trip is over.
I’d like to take the time to thank the United States Navy for offering us this opportunity — and to encourage anyone that gets the chance, to DEFINITELY take them up on it.
I’d also like to thank my brother, Kendall, for inviting me along — I feel honored and privileged in being able to participate.
This TRULY was the TRIP OF A LIFETIME!!!