For this ninth grader, five days on an aircraft carrier is no pleasure cruise

Dennis Lazar, left, with his son Michael, 14. The teen spent five days on the USS Nimitz with his father as a part of the Navy's 'Tiger Cruise.'
Dennis Lazar, left, with his son Michael, 14. The teen spent five days on the USS Nimitz with his father as a part of the Navy's 'Tiger Cruise.'

That's why they call them 'tigers'

Michael Lazar might have missed a week of school recently but he got once-in-a-lifetime education about life on a aircraft carrier.

Lazar, a ninth-grader at Trinity Christian School, took a "Tiger Cruise" offered by the U.S. Navy. Early this month, he returned from the 10-day trip that included stops in San Diego and Pearl Harbor and five days on an aircraft carrier in the Atlantic Ocean with his fighter-pilot father.

The "Tiger Cruise" is for family members and friends of people in the U.S. Navy to see what it's like to live at sea.

"It's a nice way to educate family members and reunite with them on the way back," said Michael's dad, Dennis Lazar, commanding officer of a Hornet squadron on board the USS Nimitz.

Michael, 14, stopped first in San Diego and then Honolulu. After meeting his father in the airport, the two and 1,300 other "tigers" took a five-day cruise back to San Diego.

Usually these cruises are the finale to a six-month deployment. Those who have been out at sea and haven't been able to see their families or friends, have the opportunity to bring them aboard the aircraft carrier and show them what they do.

The five days is filled with activities and air shows the "tigers" and their military sponsors can take part in together.

"My favorite part was the air show," Michael said. "They did fly-bys and supersonic fly-bys, they dropped bombs in the ocean and they fired the 20-millimeter cannons into the ocean."

Dennis Lazar demonstrated some of the fly-bys, when planes fly in a tight formation. It was the first time Michael was able to see his father fly off of an aircraft carrier.

Aircraft carriers are about a quarter-mile long and carry 5,000 plus personnel on board during deployments.

"It's like a floating city and you've got to know your little neck of the woods or neighborhood," said his mother, Leslie Lazar.

While he was on board, Michael was not allowed to go in restricted areas. His favorite place was the flight deck. He also liked the "tiger" activities that included barbecues, movies and flight demonstrations.

A straight-A student, Michael said missing a week of school was worth it and that he learned a lot on the ship that he would not have learned in the classroom.

"A lot more," he said. "They won't even speak of aircraft carriers in school."

His mother, a registered nurse, said the cruise was a good way for her son to experience military life first-hand.

"This was an opportunity for Michael to get to do something out of the ordinary," she said. "I believe we all need to have experiences like that."

Michael said he might consider a military career -- if his mother would let him.

"I know how hard it is," said Leslie Lazar, who was in the military herself for 12 years. "I don't exactly think Michael understands the sacrifice it takes."

At least now, he has an idea.