Originally published in The (Columbus, Ind.) Republic, Nov. 17, 2001

By Andy Proffet
aproffet@therepublic.com

For months on end, life aboard the USS Enterprise was routine for Columbus native David Haven and his fellow sailors.

The aircraft carrier was on deployment in the Persian Gulf for the summer.

“When you get on board a ship on deployment, it’s ‘Groundhog Day,'” Haven said, referring to the 1993 film in which the lead character relives the same day over and over.

“From May to October, all the days seemed the same to me.”

All, that is, except one.

Just as life changed and routines were disrupted at home on Sept. 11, the 5,000 sailors aboard the Enterprise found their world changed too.

“We were doing daily cleanup when it happened,” Haven said. “We had CNN playing for background noise when we happened to look up and see the World Trade Center on fire.

“Then the second plane hit, and we were like, ‘Turn that up a second. We can dust later.'”

Haven said it was about 4 p.m. in the Gulf when the attacks occurred.

The sailors watched for a while, but few stayed up late to see what was happening to their homeland.

“We had to continue with business as normal,” Haven said.

That meant getting to bed on time and maintaining the routine.

The Enterprise had been on its way home. But the ship’s return was delayed by the attacks.

Instead, the carrier returned to the Persian Gulf and was involved in the first airstrikes against Afghanistan, which began Oct. 7.

“The level of intensity increases (when) we’re actually sending pilots into combat,” Haven said.

“There’s no cutting corners, we spend extra time troubleshooting.”

The Enterprise finally returned to the United States on Nov. 10, docking at Norfolk, Va.

Haven, a petty officer second class, works as a medic aboard the Enterprise.

He called the flight deck crews the “actual workhorses” on the carrier.

“Then, you’ve got the guys down in the plants, where it’s incredibly hot,” he said. “We’re sitting there in 85- to 90-degree water and they’re right next to those nuclear reactors.

“In my opinion, the rest of us don’t really work.”

During the airstrikes, the Enterprise crew received e-mails showing a German ship displaying the American flag at half-mast in a show of support.

“That put a smile on everybody’s face,” Haven said. “That’s a large show of respect to have your flag flown on another country’s ship.”

Although he calls his decision to join the Navy a “whimsical choice,” Haven doesn’t regret it.

“I’ve seen so much more of the world than the average 24-year-old has,” he said. “Spain, France, Italy, Portugal, Greece, Saudi Arabia and on and on.

“I’m ready for another 20 years (in the Navy).”