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'Carrier' on PBS Profiles Life Aboard the USS Nimitz

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'Carrier' on PBS Profiles Life Aboard the USS Nimitz

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The USS Nimitz arrives at a naval base in the South Korean port city of Busan. It takes a crew of more than 5,000 men and women to keep the massive nuclear-powered aircraft carrier running. Kim Jae-Hwan/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption Kim Jae-Hwan/AFP/Getty Images

The USS Nimitz arrives at a naval base in the South Korean port city of Busan. It takes a crew of more than 5,000 men and women to keep the massive nuclear-powered aircraft carrier running.

Kim Jae-Hwan/AFP/Getty Images

USS Nimitz Capt. Ted Branch says the USS Nimitz is "a fine ship ... but the heart and soul is not the steel, it's the crew." Above, a sailor watches the horizon from the deck. Carrier Project hide caption

toggle caption Carrier Project

USS Nimitz Capt. Ted Branch says the USS Nimitz is "a fine ship ... but the heart and soul is not the steel, it's the crew." Above, a sailor watches the horizon from the deck.

Carrier Project

Airman Chris Altice joined the Navy to save money for college. Just before the Nimitz sailed, he found out that his girlfriend was pregnant. Carrier Project hide caption

toggle caption Carrier Project

Airman Chris Altice joined the Navy to save money for college. Just before the Nimitz sailed, he found out that his girlfriend was pregnant.

Carrier Project

"These young sailors and Marines are saddled with tremendous responsibilities," says executive producer Maro Chermayeff. "At the same time, it's like living 24/7 in a high school." Carrier Project hide caption

toggle caption Carrier Project

"These young sailors and Marines are saddled with tremendous responsibilities," says executive producer Maro Chermayeff. "At the same time, it's like living 24/7 in a high school."

Carrier Project

A jet prepares for take off. Carrier Project hide caption

toggle caption Carrier Project

A jet prepares for take off.

Carrier Project

Laurie Coffey is a lieutenant and pilot in the largely male-dominated Nimitz air wing. Carrier Project hide caption

toggle caption Carrier Project

Laurie Coffey is a lieutenant and pilot in the largely male-dominated Nimitz air wing.

Carrier Project

Working on an aircraft carrier is "not your average 9-to-5 job," says Chermayeff. Her film crew spent six months on board the Nimitz. Carrier Project hide caption

toggle caption Carrier Project

Working on an aircraft carrier is "not your average 9-to-5 job," says Chermayeff. Her film crew spent six months on board the Nimitz.

Carrier Project

For the thousands of sailors aboard the USS Nimitz, home is 24 stories high, three football fields long, moves at 35 miles per hour and carries 85 military aircraft. Carrier, a new 10-part PBS series, profiles the daily lives of the more than 5,000 men and women who keep the massive, nuclear-powered aircraft carrier running.

There is an entire floating city — with stores and barber shops and rec rooms — underneath the airstrip. This city exists for the sailors who support the jets on the runway — from ocean navigators, to munitions experts, to secretaries, to cooks who churn out as many as 20,000 meals per day.

Ted Branch, captain and commanding officer of the carrier, says, "The USS Nimitz is a fine ship ... a great one, but the heart and soul is not the steel, it's the crew."

'24/7 in a High School'

The 17-member PBS Carrier team spent six months aboard the USS Nimitz, chronicling events in the lives of young sailors who, while navigating the personal challenges of life far from home, work to launch pilots on missions over Iraq.

"It truly is a high-stakes environment where literally one misstep can get you seriously injured — or worse," says executive producer/director Maro Chermayeff. "At the same time, it's like living 24/7 in a high school. Many of the sailors are still teenagers. They form cliques, they gossip and they generally act like kids back home."

Jeff Dupre, one of the producers of the series, says that six months on the carrier established a level of trust with the sailors and Marines.

"We became part of the crew and people really sort of let their guard down," Dupre says. "We became friends with them and they trusted us. And after a while, they sort of just got used to us being around."

Dupre also says that the series producers made an effort to focus on the men and women who perform the behind-the-scenes tasks on the carrier.

"So often, programs about carriers and about the Navy are very much focused on the top gun pilots and on the admirals," Dupre says, "but we wanted to focus on the younger sailors and really hear from them."

'Not Your Average 9-to-5 Job'

Filmmakers followed 24 men and women, including newly enlisted sailors and long-serving chiefs and fighter pilots, to get a glimpse of the monotony, intensity and expectations aboard the vast ship. Some say they joined the Navy to stay out of trouble — the average age on the carrier is 19.

Executive producer/director Chermayeff, former U.S. Navy serviceman Chris Altice, and U.S. Navy pilot Laurie Coffey talk with host Neal Conan about daily life on the USS Nimitz during the course of a controversial war.

"These young sailors and Marines are saddled with tremendous responsibilities," says Chermayeff, "loading bombs on jets and launching pilots on high-stakes missions over Iraq. Not your average 9-to-5 job."

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