NORFOLK, Va. -- It is a massive floating airport -- in the middle of the ocean. Strange place for land-locked Coloradans. But for seven months at a time, the USS Eisenhower is home for up to 5,200 crew members, including a 24-year-old from Castle Rock.
"I'm a pretty adaptive person. The only thing that was really miserable was the heat over in the Middle East," said Britt Dunaway.
His job on the ship is to refuel the 70 or so aircraft that can take off, land and park atop this moving monstrosity, often in less than ideal conditions.
The Navy isn't exactly what Dunaway had in mind for his future a few years ago, as a student at Douglas County High School and Castle View High School. But the idea of traveling the world? He loves it.
"We've been to Marseille, France, we've been to Italy, Dubai and Bahrain," Dunaway said.
We met up with him at Naval Station Norfolk in Virginia, where the Navy invited FOX31 exclusively onboard the "Ike," a 40-year-old, 4.5 acre long, 24-story tall behemoth, just back from its 15th combat deployment.
It was patrolling the waters in the Middle East, helping in the fight against ISIS.
The $5 billion aircraft carrier has seen history -- and helped shape it, from the Iran hostage crisis, to the Gulf War in the 1990s, to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The average age of a crew member is just 22.
The ship is fully equipped. It has stores, a chapel, a newspaper, a TV station, and yes -- it even has its own Starbucks. They try to make it feel like home, but Lt. Cmdr. Darrell Heide of Aurora said he still misses Colorado.
"I miss the Denver Broncos, being able to see a Denver Broncos game, I'll tell you what," Heide said. "I saw pictures of the parade following the Super Bowl because there was somebody on board (who) got to go to that, and I was so jealous."
Heide joined the Navy 21 years ago after attending Hinkley High School in Aurora and Metro State. He now works in a top-secret part of the USS Eisenhower, in charge of maintenance for the ship's nuclear reactor.
"I generate power, generate electricity, lights, propulsion, help launch airplanes, make sure stuff gets fixed. Other than that I can`t really talk about it too much," Heide said.
It is hard being away from his wife and kids for so long, and he misses his parents back home in Parker. But he knows the value in why he does -- what he does.
"I`m doing this, one, because I`m a patriot. I love my country. I do this because it keeps my family safe, it keeps my friends safe, it keeps people that don`t even know me back home in Colorado, keeps them safe," Heide said.
"I do it because it`s really important," he added.AlertMe