SOUTH CHINA SEA -- According to defense.gov, only one percent of Americans make the commitment to serve in their nation’s military. Service members, whether enlisted or commissioned, serve side by side every day in various parts of the world, defending their country’s freedom and liberty.
It could be weeks or months before a parent can greet their infant child for the first time, hold their spouse in a loving embrace, or attend traditional family gatherings, like the Fourth of July or Thanksgiving.
Despite the certainty of hardship, whether on a ship off the coast of Bahrain or forward-deployed in Djibouti, Africa, the call to serve resonates powerfully through generations, leading daughters and sons to follow in their mother’s and father’s footsteps in joining the service.
While operating in the South China Sea, the Theodore Roosevelt Carrier Strike Group and the Makin Island Amphibious Readiness Group joined forces to conduct Expeditionary Strike Force operations April 9, 2021. This operation presented a unique opportunity for father, Chief Warrant Officer Gilberto Cruz Jr., air boatswain aboard the Wasp-class amphibious assault ship USS Makin Island (LHD 8), and son, Operations Specialist Seaman Geovanni Cruz, assigned to the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71), to reunite under special circumstances and one high-flying helicopter ride.
“My dad didn’t know about it at first,” said Geovanni. “So, the Theodore Roosevelt team and I told them [USS Makin Island] not to tell him. My initial plan was to go over there and surprise him by calling his office phone, which I had got from our email correspondence. But, he had a couple of chiefs stall him up in their version of flight deck control while I flew from the Theodore Roosevelt to the Makin Island. Then, a family friend of ours, who I used to babysit for, went and started yelling at my dad to get his shipmate off the flight deck. My dad was very confused, saying things like ‘what are you talking about,’ until he saw me. The smile on his face, I’ll treasure that memory forever.”
Seeing his son on Makin Island’s flight deck moved Gilberto to tears. Originally, he had talked to his air boss about flying over to Theodore Roosevelt. He never expected his son to fly over instead.
“I’m still in shock from my son coming over,” said Gilberto. “I have a lot of close friends and mentors on that ship. So, I never expected everybody to get together and plan this out. Now I understand that they were all in on it and that they were just trying to surprise me. I appreciate everybody [who] had a hand in what it took to get him over here.”
The pair spent their time together like any father and son would after not seeing each for about a year; they caught up, and reminisced about family and friends. Gilberto took his son on a tour of Makin Island, and crammed in as much conversation about home and deployment. As per Navy tradition, Gilberto and Geovanni exchanged command coins and coins from their ships’ commanding officers.
The Cruz family comes from a proud military lineage starting when Geovanni’s grandfather served in the Vietnam War, which inspired Gilberto to serve as well.
“I just wanted to continue the heritage,” said Gilberto. “I joined at twenty-five because I didn’t know which way my career was going at the time. I joined the Navy instead of the Army and Marine Corps, because I wanted to travel and see the world and work on aircraft. I came in undesignated, got rated as an aviation boatswain’s mate and worked my way up the ranks to where I am today: a chief warrant officer.”
Inspired by his father’s and grandfather’s commitment, Geovanni continues the tradition. Growing up in a military family and going to a military-style youth academy, the choice was clear for him when deciding on a career path.
“I liked what my dad was doing for us and the benefits we had growing up,” said Geovanni, who is a child of six children in his family. “I’m the older brother, so it’s up to me to be that role model for my little sisters too. I’m learning how to stay strong from my dad; to be a better leader and role model, and how to set the example for the little ones back at home.”
Gilberto already believes his son is off to a strong start, referring to his son’s humility and patience, believing he will do well continuing in the military.
“I hope he sees everything that I’ve done throughout my career as a stepping stone for him to improve upon,” said Gilberto. “I hope he does greater things than I’ve done. He did a lot more in his first few years than I did. My first year, I didn’t go on deployment; I was stuck in the shipyard. My son has already done two deployments back-to-back. That’s something that I can’t even imagine doing when I was as young as he is, and I was twenty-five then; he was twenty when he did that.”
The Cruz family continues a proud legacy through Geovanni, as well as his sister, Culinary Specialist 3rd Class Aiyanah Cruz, who is a member of the ceremonial guard in Washington.
As Expeditionary Strike Force operations wound down, so did the father’s and son’s reunion. Geovanni returned to Theodore Roosevelt, supporting the strike group’s mission of maintaining a forward presence and ensuring the security and stability in the Indo-Pacific.
“As an operations specialist, I am back to standing essential navigational watches aboard the Theodore Roosevelt,” said Geovanni. “This job has its high-stress periods, but this experience has rejuvenated me as a Sailor and the memories I made today will help me handle that stress.”
As the U.S. Navy's largest forward deployed fleet, U.S. 7th Fleet routinely operates between 50-70 ships and submarines and 140 aircraft with approximately 20,000 Sailors. 7th Fleet's area of operation spans more than 124 million square kilometers, stretching from the International Date Line to the India/Pakistan border; and from the Kuril Islands in the North to the Antarctic in the South Pacific, providing security and stability to the region. 7th Fleet interacts with 35 other maritime nations to build partnerships that foster maritime security while conducting a wide-range of missions to support humanitarian efforts and uphold international laws and freedoms of the sea.
TRCSG consists of USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71), Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 11, the Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser USS Bunker Hill (CG 52), Destroyer Squadron 23, and the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Russell (DDG 59).
Theodore Roosevelt’s embarked air wing consists of the “Tomcatters” of Strike Fighter Squadrons (VFA) 31, “Golden Warriors” of VFA-87, “Blue Diamonds” of VFA-146, “Black Knights” of VFA-154, “Liberty Bells” of Airborne Command and Control Squadron (VAW) 115,
“The Gray Wolves” of Electronic Attack Squadron (VAQ) 142, “Wolf Pack” of Helicopter Maritime Strike Squadron (HSM) 75, “Eightballers” of Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron (HSC) 8 and “Providers” of Fleet Logistic Support Squadron (VRC) 30 Detachment 3.
Theodore Roosevelt departed San Diego for a scheduled deployment to the Indo-Pacific December 23.