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A Tiger's Tale

A Tiger's Tale


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Originally, this was just a journal to document a tiger experience. Capt. Ian Sonnenberg invited his dad, John Sonnenberg, and his uncle, Craig Cooper, to join him in Honolulu aboard the USS San Diego (LPD-22) and sail to Camp Pendleton, California, on a tiger cruise. There was some brief preliminary information and a couple of emails, but there was little information on what to expect from the experience. The plan was to capture the experience so others would feel more prepared. But this project turned into something more.

The journal then shifted to creating a guidebook for anyone going on an extended tiger cruise as well as composing a journal. As the journal developed into a manual for tiger cruises, it took on another dimension. This document grew to be an optimistic accounting of the future of America. This team of Sailors and Marines crossed the globe, with our flag proudly flying from the mast, and showed the world the strength and spirit of the United States. Theyall the US militaryindeed, are celebrated in the successful culmination of their missions. In addition to this optimistic message came the realization that the future leaders of our industries, institutions, and government are being developed within these brave men and women. Hoorah!

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781546251781
Publisher: AuthorHouse
Publication date: 08/31/2018
Pages: 108
Product dimensions: 8.50(w) x 11.00(h) x 0.29(d)

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Journal of the Tiger Cruise


2246 - Nimitz Gate, Joint Naval Base, Oahu Hawaii

Hundreds of Uber, Lyft and taxis filled with exhausted Marines and Sailors, after their short ten-hour liberty, headed toward the distant gate. It was already dark. Suddenly, each had to slow at the sight of red brake lights flaring up in the darkness from the hundreds of vehicles ahead of them. Unknown to all of us was a new order, issued at 2200 hours (10 PM), for 100% ID check. Now all of the Tigers, because we didn't have IDs, were heading toward the USS Pearl Harbor and the USS San Diego with the new obligation to transition to the security building and procure proper identification.

As each vehicle approached, the guard firmly gave these tired military personnel their options to either abandon their Tiger or comply with the order. Each discussion at the gate also compounded the delay. As the clock ticked toward the enlisted personnel's 2300 (11 PM) mandatory deadline, scores of young men and women abandoned their vehicles and Tigers to sprint the three miles to their docked ships.

As a Tiger, it was immediately clear that what these men and women do is important; they believe in what they had been trained to do and feared not meeting the goals of the orders they were given. As I later learned, the fear was more about letting others down than of any personal concerns. They wanted to make sure the whole crew got back on time.

Fortunately, my son was an officer and could stay out until midnight, so we acquired our pass from a single guard in a large office that looked like a DMV. He was overworked and overwhelmed, but still kept his sense of humor in the situation. During this whole time, our cab sat with the meter running. Fortunately for us, the driver had been through this many times and assured my son that we could make it to the ship by midnight. By the time we were done getting a pass and got back to the gate, the crowd of enlisted personnel was gone, and we sped to the USS San Diego's brow with 15 minutes to spare.

My son, Capt. Ian Sonnenberg (I'll frequently refer to him as Ian), my brother-in-law, Craig Cooper, and I made our way up ramps and through side-port doors to my son's assigned quarters. We just followed Ian, often through double sets of water-tight doors. Hold down the top lever, pull up on the long handle of the first door and push it open, everyone getting into the small space between the doors, close the first door behind you by again pulling down the top lever then pulling down another large handle, then you can start to open the next door with the same repetitive sequence. We got to a point where we were a team traversing the labyrinth with choreographed precision. Up ramps, through doors, up ladders (stairways on steroids). Sometimes, the ladders had small round access holes that you could barely fit through. Finally, we arrived at 02-64-4-L, our quarters for nine days. The next few minutes were a blur of assigning space, unpacking, dressing for bed, picking our rack and hitting them hard. It was a good day with more to come.


0500 - USS San Diego, Hotel Two Pier, Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam

We were up. It didn't take long to get out of the rack, shit, shower and save. Uncle Craig and I were on Central Time, ahead four-hours, so it felt like we slept in. My son, like the rest of the crew, didn't seem to care about the hour of the day. They just were concerned that they were on the same time zone, since they had traveled through 18 time zones out and, so far, 16 on the way back. The three of us worked around each other like so many had done before. You just made it work.

Breakfast was in the officers' wardroom at 0545. Eggs to order, turkey sausage and some fresh fruit. Not bad! They were out of orange juice. I thought to myself, what a nice problem to have. I can live without OJ.

By the way, the enlisted personnel get the same food as the officers, the seating is just a little nicer in the officers' wardroom.

0700 - USS San Diego Flight Deck

We mustered with my son's fellow Marines on the flight deck (this deck covers the stern of the USS San Diego). There is enough room here for four helicopters to land at the same time. In the dark of the dawn, lit by the open hanger's bluish-green lights, Major Payne praised the men and women for the safe and 100% on time return to the ship.

Accountability is valued by the top and respect for performance is appreciated by those who serve. The Major took time to compliment the crew on the success of the mission and to remind them that the trip to their home port would be busy. He also welcomed the Tigers and expressed his belief that we would see, as clearly as he does, the high caliber of this Air Combat Expeditionary (ACE) detachment. After a hardy "hoorah", everyone quickly went back to work.

My son showed Uncle Craig and me around the flight deck and hanger. Four Hueys (UH-1) and four Cobras (AH-1) were on board and took up 90% of the space.

Then my son showed us the small area at the very stern of the ship with "BLACKJACK RECOVER" stenciled on the non-skid surface of the landing area. I found it interesting that they would have this marked at all on the surface as the RQ-21 Blackjack unmanned system doesn't land on the deck, but is captured by a single vertical rope.

The stenciled location was my first indication of the transformational processes underway in the military to move to unmanned systems. The Marine Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Squadron One (VMU-1) has been put in place to pave the way for the new age of defense. Even getting the letters on the deck of this new vessel required a significant lift by Ian's unit and the other VMUs. The Marines' longstanding traditions are always challenging to change, but in just a few years the change in one of those traditions was literally stenciled onto the deck. The success of the 15 MEU reinforced the value of unmanned aviation. Times were changing in the Marines.

The next few hours went by like a blur. We went back to our room, got our coats and proceeded to the Mess Deck, which is an open area outside and about a third of the way from the bow. The Sailors assigned to man the rails during the ship's sail from Pearl Harbor were milling around and getting into position.

0800 - Mess decks

The USS San Diego got under way from the docks at Pearl Harbor.

Tradition holds that military ships pay homage to the USS Arizona and the USS Missouri as they pass.

The Sailors and Marines manned the rails of the USS San Diego in their Navy whites and Marine khaki uniforms. There was almost no talking and all commands were heralded from whistle blasts as we passed the two honored ships. To see this from shore must be impressive, but to stand among these men and women who are ready to give the same last measure was humbling. It is inspiring to think that after 27,838 days since December 7th we still remember, with such respect, those who gave so much. To stand next to the grandchildren who now aspire to similarly protect the World is truly an awesome experience. I could clearly see that these young people understood their role in not only this remembrance, but also in the aspirations of this great nation.


As we sailed away from the mouth of Pearl Harbor all of the Tigers mustered in the Boat Valley. On the Landing Ship Platform Dock 22 (LPD 22), the Boat Valley is a unique place. It is surrounded by bulkheads, cranes, smaller boats and various beam structures which are used to support the operations. But it is an open area where the Tigers and their sponsors could all fit. In the center to the starboard side was a long table with a two-foot by three-foot sheet cake decorated to welcome the Tigers.

The short welcome included a brief address from the Commanding Officer, Pete M.

Collins. After a quick update on the schedule, several of the Sailors sang and we heard a small contemporary band sing a few songs.

The talent was impressive. As the cake was being consumed we each received a small swag-bag. It had the usual cover (baseball cap), t-shirt and some ear plugs (boats can be noisy). It also had a 12-page document, "Personal Qualification Standard for Tiger Surface Warfare Specialist (TSWS)" manual.

This was a long check list of skills and knowledge that, when acquired, would help us develop an understanding of the various activities and functions of the vessel and the crew.

The TSWS manual was a great idea for several reasons. First, it opened my eyes to one of the primary functions of this boat: it is a school. During some part of the day every one of the Sailors and Marines were involved in either teaching or learning something that would directly lead to additional qualifications. Second, it focused my attention on various aspects of the operations that were all around us. Finally, it gave me a personal goal to learn every aspect of this adventure. We were going to see everything and now had a way to prove we had learned what was expected of a Tiger. I was very proud when I got my last signature and could understand the drive that these young men and women have to learn. There are no A's or B's. You are learning and then have a signature validating your knowledge. This is personalized learning at its best. There are no failures here, just learners.

1400 - Debarkation Control

After the welcome, Ian wanted to show us where they run flight simulations for the RQ-21A. The Debarkation Control is a small room toward the stern on the starboard side. It is above the flight deck. The flight deck extends over the entire stern of the ship. The windows are what makes this room special. There are only three large rooms that have real windows and not just small port holes: the Bridge, the Helicopter Control Tower (HCT) and this small dark room. It is manned at all times during flight operations and in bad weather. The main purpose of manning the watch is to watch for man-over-board situations.

In the room were two Sailors. Usually, there is only one Sailor on duty, but in this case, one was training the other on the qualifications for this duty. The two of them were watching out the window at the flight deck and at an endless sea. Behind us by about five miles was the USS Pearl Harbor sailing to catchup. It was clear that this was a very important job that was incredibly tedious.

Also in the room was the set up to operate the unmanned reconnaissance aircraft, the RQ-21A (Blackjack) Simulator. Basically, it consisted of a couple of laptops and screens. Only one device was required, the other was used to instruct. The Marines would run a simulation on one computer and the other computer would monitor and even kick in challenging scenarios that would test the RQ-21A pilots.

1500 - Hanger RQ-21A

From the Debarkation Control room, we weaved our way down to the hanger below. Ian wanted to show us the RQ-21A Blackjack. Sitting out in one corner of the crowded hanger, past the helicopters, aviation moving equipment, tool boxes, parts in containers and weight lifting equipment were two RQ-21A fuselages. The bird is about 6 feet long and has twin tails and a foot diameter ball under the front that holds the cameras, lasers and other devices. When wings are attached, it is 15 feet wide.

RQ-21A – mission and purpose

Ian then told us about the RQ-21A.

The stats follow, but considering the size it didn't take long to see why he was so passionate about unmanned aviation. Surrounded by helicopters that were designed fifty years ago, this sleek little bird could support most of the missions that the manned devices did at 10% of the costs without risking a life. As I looked out I again felt that there was some history being made here. Times were changing in the military world.

Harbor Drive chart

To quickly get back to our quarters down the starboard side of the ship we took a passageway called Harbor Drive. Throughout the ship's maze of passageways there are few paths that don't take you through numerous sets of double bulkheads and up and down ladders. The Harbor Drive is one of the exceptions. It extends, unbroken, along most of the length of the ship and is used to help get supplies onto the ship. Doors along Harbor Drive can be opened to accept pallet size materials which can then be easily transported to various locations within the ship. I point this out because your travel time through the ship is not based on how fast you walk, but on your teamwork getting through the passageways, through the double hatches and up and down ladders – and taking advantage of the few uninterrupted passageways like Harbor Drive.

We did not get a diagram of the ship, so we had to memorize the routes we took using various markers and visual reference points; e.g. turn at the pile of barbeque charcoal bags, go down the ladder by the door labeled Battle of Bagdad or turn at the fresh water fire hose. The only directional signs were the red cross (to go to the medical area) and the red arrow (exits).

So, one tip would be to try to get some kind of diagram of the ship before you get on board. I was surprised that this wasn't available, but maybe it is part of the Navy's concern with 'loose lips sink ships'.

Every space on the ship is identified by a series of numbers and letters on the walls (tac number) that indicate your location. The first two digits designate how many decks or levels you are above or below the main deck (levels are above, decks are below; 1 = main deck). The second two digits designate how far you are from the bow of the ship (1-185 units). The third digit is the distance, port or starboard, from the centerline of the ship (0-8 with the centerline = 0; even numbers on port side, odd numbers on starboard side). Our quarters were at 02-64-4-L or the 02 level (the second floor going up from the flight deck level), 64 from the bow so we were a third of the way back from the bow, 4 was an even number so we were on the port side (just remember the mnemonic PESO - Port Even Starboard Odd) and L was for living quarters. Even if you are lost and know the number you can quickly figure out where to go.

The problem is that this is still a military vessel. Many of the areas were locked, had security levels that we didn't have or were for a hazard, like decontamination. It wasn't unusual to be heading for a location and get stopped in a passage way that was locked or possessed an intimidating warning sign. This clearly was not a civilian vessel in another way: bolts, screws, and sharp objects protrude from the walls and stairwells. The porthole doorways and ladders between decks / levels were very tight and banging your head on a solid piece of metal was a regular occurrence. Also keep in mind that we are at sea and constant rocking makes any movement an adventure. As my son and the CO describe it, "the ship is always trying to kill you."

Before we got to our room we checked out the chart on the wall at a location called the Trolley Stop. A world map was displayed with the path of the deployment and each day's traverse indicated with a symbol. Red line was going out and the green line was the path home. We were at day 203. It was a long time for these people to be away from families and friends. But they seemed to be very pleased with the mission and showed no signs of the adversities they had faced daily.

We discussed working out in the morning. To learn the paths to the fitness rooms we repeated the routes through the ship a couple of times. Both Craig and I still felt like newbies, but we were committed to try without Ian's help.

Finally, we got back to our quarters and hit the racks hard. The seas rocked the boat. The next day some Tigers reported being ill and one was in the medical center with an IV. But, Craig and I slept soundly. Having a sleep bag with us really helped as the room was very cold.


0400 - Physical Training (PT): Hamster Wheel

Waking up is easy when you are four hours behind your normal time zone. With the alarm, we all woke and in minutes dressed into shorts, t-shirts and gym shoes. There are about dozen places to work out on the ship; some that I'm sure we didn't see. With over a thousand military personnel, all with physical fitness requirements, exercise is important. My preference was to work on my cardio so I went forward to the Hamster Wheel area. Craig and Ian went to the weight room in the stern.

On my own for the first time, I navigated through what seemed a perilous course through passageways and down ladders to the Hamster Wheel rooms. To be honest, I was very proud that I was successful. Then, I realized that everyone onboard could do this. In two diff erent adjoining rooms, I found a wide assortment of treadmills, elliptical, and rowing machines. There were also areas to stretch. Even at this hour two-thirds of the machines were being used. I found an elliptical, put my earbuds in, and went into my normal workout zone. Then I felt it: the waves were still there. On the elliptical it was easy as I had something to hold on to, but on the treadmills, I could see the athletes running as fast as I ever could and moving with the waves without a thought of how hard it looked to keep your balance.

Successfully, I found my way back to my quarters and cleaned up for breakfast.


Excerpted from "A Tiger's Tale"
by .
Copyright © 2018 John Sonnenberg.
Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Introduction, vi,
Journal of Tiger Cruise, 1,
List of Tiger suggestions, 66,
Appendix, 69,

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