NORFOLK, Va. -- Aircraft carriers are floating cities at sea, traveling the world to defend our country for months at a time. The U.S.S. Theodore Roosevelt is docked in Norfolk, readying to set sail on its next mission.
Sailors aboard the naval aircraft carrier are embarking on a nearly year-long deployment. That extended time away can be challenging for them, their families and their faith.
CBN News was invited to sample sea life and to meet some of the vessel's courageous Christians as they finished their final round of training for the journey.
'The Big Stick'
Sailors call The Roosevelt "The Big Stick." It is 90,000 tons of steel with a jet runway on top, towering 20 stories above the water and stretching three-and-a-half football fields.
Inside the carrier feels like an unending series of mazes, bridges and tunnels. And sometimes, there can be as many as 5,000 people on board.
The people are the ship's most impressive asset. From those who guide the rapid take-offs and landings on the flight deck, to those who repair pipes in the machine shop, and those who safely transport explosives on and off the carrier, this is precision under pressure.
Petty Officer 1st Class Charles Hart works in the area of explosives.
"I do the job I do in the Navy not so much because of the job, because explosives is not the first thing I thought about when I thought about joining," Hart told CBN News.
"But I do it for the people because with my rate, because we deal with explosives, because if something goes wrong it can inherently kill the whole department, we are very tight knit. So my job itself is a tight-knit job, my community is a tight-knit community," he said.
With more than 17 years in the U.S. Navy, Hart works to make his ship community even tighter and to transform hearts. The explosives expert leads an evening Bible study five nights a week.
"When I came in the military I was a young believer; I came in 18, 19 and I was a Christian," Hart said, recalling the start of his military career. "I was a licensed minister and so I see the importance of making sure you connect at an early age with other believers."
That connection is critical, especially as sailors begin that nine-month deployment. Hart shared some of the difficulties in his interview with CBN News.
"Emotionally, you go through a gamut of emotions; you can be lonely at times," Hart said.
"Sometimes you can get depressed. Sometimes you can get a little under the weather," he said. "So you have to constantly remind yourself that this is only for a period of time."
"And at the end of the day, my family is home and they are waiting for me and they are excited about seeing me just as I am excited about seeing them," he said. "And once this is done, I can go home and spend time with them."
This is a milestone mission for Petty Officer 3rd Class Stephen Green. It is his first deployment as a Christian.
"It gets tough sometime, I am not going to lie. It really does," Green told CBN News. "Obviously, you are going to miss your family. You grew up with them. I lived with my family for 19 years. And now all of a sudden, just like that, I am away from them."
"Luckily, I do have people around the ship that I can call my sea family. And they get me through the days," he said.
Green's faith began on the ship. Less than a year ago, the 22-year-old attended a worship service in the ship's forecastle, the same area where he works to lift and drop anchor. At that meeting, another sailor invited him to attend his church back home.
"First day there, I really didn't get much of anything," Green said, recalling that church visit. "Something was drawing me to that church, though, so I came back a second time."
"And that's when the pastor, we were right in the middle of worship service, and she stopped and she looked directly at me," he continued. "And that is when she spoke into my life and gave me what God was telling me."
"And it was just crazy for me because it was a couple of weeks ago that I was praying to God about what was going on in my life and I was asking him for," he said. "And it was like she was listening in on that conversation."
The sailor's prayers were answered. He accepted Christ, stopped drinking, and found freedom in the Christian faith he first discovered aboard the ship.
"It was really bad. It was to the point where I was drinking every night. Every night," Green said about his days as an alcoholic.
"It was pretty much wanting to fill the void in my life, thinking it would make me happier and take all my depression away and all my stress away. Obviously it did not. I needed God," he added.
"I am actually eight months sober now. And for a lot of friends I used to have, they didn't understand it," Green said.
Green beat the odds, which show alcohol abuse is a significant problem for young people in the military. He now prays that when The Big Stick sets sail those old drinking buddies will someday join him at a ship Bible study, a ship church service, or they will simply pause to truly hear one of the ship's nightly prayers.
"Life for a Christian at sea can be very similar to life for a Christian in port, depending on how you connect yourself with other believers," Hart said.
That connection provides added protection.