Nevada resident Ray Reynolds and his son Nathan were selected to ride aboard the USS Nimitz from Pearl Harbor to San Diego as the Nimitz was returning from a six-month deployment in the Arabian sea last Thanksgiving.

Reynolds’ daughter Nicole is a member of the Navy’s elite F-18A fighter squadron VFA-154 Black Knights.

“It isn’t a carnival cruise line, but the trip aboard the Nimitz (nicknamed Old Salt) was so much more than I expected,” said Ray Reynolds. The two were picked as part of the Navy’s Morale, Welfare, and Retention program called a Tiger Cruise after security background checks, a medical screening and hazard duty waivers.

Besides a few places like the reactor room, there were very few places off limits for the tigers. In fact, the 400 tigers were assigned daily tours educating the attendees on facts about the aircraft carrier. The USS Nimitz is the most deployed, longest serving, most reliable aircraft carrier in the Navy. The ship deploys with roughly 38 aircraft launching from one of four catapults. Catapult #2 reached its 100,000th jet launch during this deployment.

Ray Reynolds said, “We lived in the billets among the sailors, walked the flight deck and were able to see jets launched and recovered from a front row seat. It was something I will never forget. The hardest part for me was not seeing land for seven days. I can’t imagine being on a ship for six months not seeing land except the 12 days of shore leave. Besides some of the most impressive sunsets, it was kind of relaxing not having cell phone coverage for seven days.”

The Nimitz serves 18,000 meals every day for the 5,000 sailors and airmen stationed aboard. The anchors alone weight 65,000 pounds each. “The ship is massive. It was something to be 100 feet above the ocean top looking down,” said Nathan Reynolds.

Ray Reynolds said, “The Navy made us feel right at home. There is certainly a special bound I have with Old Salt and the military as a retired veteran; however, more special to me was welcoming my daughter back home to the U.S. as a veteran herself. having completed a very long sea deployment in the Middle East. We are the only members of our families to have deployed to the gulf region and it’s a special connection. She is a true warrior and my hero.”