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November 11th, 2008
09:46 AM ET

This small town at sea

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2008/images/11/11/art.usnavy1.jpg]

Joe Sterling
CNN News Editor

It's a small town at sea. That's one way to describe the USS Eisenhower, the majestic aircraft carrier floating off the coast of Virginia and North Carolina.

I was among a group of a dozen Atlantans invited to observe life on a carrier. We spent 24 hours watching F-18s take off and land, chatting with sailors about life on board and getting a feel for the arduous and lonely life at sea.

You can't help but marvel at the ship's architecture, respect its military potency, and revel in the art of teaching pilots how to take off and land on the flight deck.

But what you end up taking away from the visit is respect for sailors and the humbling thought that they are the first line of defense for the United States.

The sailors hail largely from the U.S. working class.

Many are from small towns, and many come from cities. The Navy beckons inlanders. Many of these sailors come from places like Iowa and Oklahoma – regions where kids never saw a beach.

The faces are black, Hispanic, Asian, and white. The sailors are women, as well as men. It's a humble, respectful, and polite crowd.

I saw one living area. Triple beds and tight closet space. These are close quarters and it's in everyone's interest to work and play well together.

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Filed under: Joe Sterling • Veteran's Day