GARDNER – Darren Brooks had the opportunity of a lifetime in April when he was invited by his son, Marine Cpl. Cale Brooks, to join him aboard the amphibious assault ship, USS Boxer, for a family cruise from Hawaii to California.
The family cruise, known as a Tiger Cruise, is the chance for family and friends to see up close what their loved one does on a day-to-day basis onboard the ship.
“As soon as I knew my son was going in the Marines, I knew a Tiger Cruise was a possibility, and I said I wanted to do it if I was given the opportunity,” Darren said.
His father-in-law was able to take a Tiger Cruise with his brother-in-law in 1982, so he was familiar with the program.
Darren flew into Hawaii early, so he could visit the Pearl Harbor memorial before boarding the ship.
According to the Marine website, onboard the ship were Marines and sailors of the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit and Boxer Amphibious Ready Group, who had just completed an eight-month deployment conducting theater security cooperation exercises with foreign nations throughout the Western Pacific and the Middle East.
“He was at sea for two months and hit ports in the Philippines, Singapore and Guam before being dropped off in Africa,” Darren said. “We don’t know where he was for the four months after he was dropped off, but then he was picked back up for another two months hitting a couple of ports on the way back.”
Cale graduated from Gardner-South Wilmington High School in 2009 and went to college for one semester before deciding college wasn’t for him. He joined the Marines in February 2010.
“He did a semester of college and decided he didn’t want to go,” Darren said. “It’s funny, because he spent his first three years in the Marines going to school.”
While in the Marines, Cale continued his martial arts training and received his black belt. His father was treated to a demonstration of those skills during the Tiger Cruise.
“I knew he had his black belt, but it was a surprise he was one of the four chosen to demonstrate,” Darren said.
In addition to the demonstration, family and friends aboard the ship were given tours and treated to social events like a talent show, luau, ice cream social and a steel beach party.
“I don’t know how to explain the vastness of the ship,” Darren said “They were able to set up basketball hoops and play basketball and soccer on the deck during the steel beach party.”
He said the tours included everything from the medical facilities to the machine shop, the anchor room to the brig, but he wasn’t allowed into the intel room where his son worked while he was onboard the ship.
They also saw demonstrations of the Ospreys and AV-8B Harrier that take off and land vertically on the ship because it doesn’t have the arresting gear needed for a traditional plane to take off.
Cale, who extended his time in the Marines by six months in order to go on his deployment, will be completing his commitment and returning to Gardner this summer.
“He’s going to come home and do something different,” Darren said. “He’s had a couple of job offers, but he’s not sure what he wants to do.”
For information on the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit, visit www.13thmeu.marines.mil