Finksburg man joins son in 'Operation Tiger'

April 09, 1995|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,Sun Staff Writer

Robert H. Palm Sr. took his first sea voyage recently as a guest of the Navy.

On a seven-day cruise from Hawaii to San Diego, the Finksburg (( resident plunged into Navy life aboard the 100,000-ton nuclear aircraft carrier Carl Vinson, which the Navy calls "the most powerful warship in the world."

The $105 "bargain" passage included meals, a T-shirt, a hat and a week of sharing all things nautical with his son, Lt. Robert H. Palm Jr., a radar intercept officer on the Tomcat jets that fly from the carrier.

Last August, Mr. Palm, an IBM engineer, joined in Operation Tiger '94, the Navy's code name for its guest cruise program. He and nearly 1,000 other Tigers met the ship in Hawaii after it had been cruising in the Persian Gulf and the Indian Ocean.

Mr. Palm, 52, an Air Force veteran, earned his sea legs aboard one of the world's largest ships.

"The size of the ship just blows you away," he said. "It's like one huge landing field, and it carries about 90 jets."

The ship carries a crew of about 6,000. Several women serve on the Vinson, but the Tigers were all males who ranged in age from 8 to 82. Many officers brought their young sons aboard for the final leg of the six-month cruise.

"It was almost like a classroom for us," Mr. Palm said. "It was educational and informative."

He shared living quarters with his 29-year-old son, and adjusting to shipboard life was not too difficult, he said. "The ladders were the hardest thing to get used to," said Mr. Palm.

He said he never needed the patches he had packed to ward off seasickness. He attributes his malaise-free passage to the size of the ship, which is 1,092 feet long and 134 feet wide. "We had days with 15-foot seas, but you couldn't feel it," said Mr. Palm.

The Tigers also cruised aboard a supply ship and a destroyer that accompanied the Vinson on the voyage home.

Mr. Palm said he found the carrier's tail section the "neatest spot."

"There was not a lot of wind," he said. "You could stand there and watch the sun setting in the west. It was such a beautiful sight."

Mr. Palm said the deck, which feels like sandpaper, was the busiest and most perilous place on the ship.

"You have to look down so you don't trip over the cables and up so you don't hit your head on a wing," he said. "They move the planes like some kind of giant chess game."

He had high praise for the Vinson's crew members, who were "all proud of their jobs. They take an interest and a personal pride in what they are doing."

The Tigers participated in a full program and joined in the ship's daily routine. "There were so many things to look into and occupy us on the ship. We saw demonstrations, air shows, squadron briefings and special maneuvers, and even a cookout on the deck," Mr. Palm said.

The Discovery Channel filmed parts of the cruise and has broadcast the program several times.

When the Vinson was about 24 hours from its California destination, the crew began to launch the planes. His son's plane was one of the last to fly off.

"Rob is a back-seater who operates radar equipment on the F-14 jet," he said of his son. "When you see the crews fly off, you realize the danger there is in every takeoff. It is frightening for a parent."

He credits Navy training for the Vinson's near-perfect safety record.

"There was not one incident or problem the whole time," he said.

Lieutenant Palm, who served aboard the ship for six months before his father joined him, had sent several tapes home to his parents, giving his father a preview of the trip.

"The daily routine was hectic and very busy," said Mr. Palm. "Some of those guys never saw daylight."

A career in the Navy had been his son's dream from early childhood. A field trip to Annapolis, while he was a student at Sandymount Elementary, set the wheels turning.

"Rob told me, 'I want to go there,' as soon as he saw the Naval Academy," said Mr. Palm.

The road to Annapolis was not smooth. His son was turned down on first try for an appointment in his senior year at Westminster High.

"That was the hardest, his first real rejection by the outside world," Mr. Palm said. "A day or so later, though, he was back on his feet. He knew there were other possibilities."

After a year of study at Towson State University, the younger Palm won an appointment to the academy. A few years later, his brother Andrew followed him to Annapolis. Ensign Andrew Palm is in pilot training now in Corpus Christi, Texas

The Tiger cruise gave a father the chance to watch his son fly and a renewed sense of pride. "You watch a kid develop and see how he sets goals," said Mr. Palm. "If you give him all the love and support he needs, he will soar."

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