Navy Petty Officer David Saavedra was onboard the USS Carl Vinson two months ago when the aircraft carrier's communication system crashed, prohibiting the 23-year-old bomb technician from calling or e-mailing his family. Boredom would have consumed Saavedra if not for a flood of letters and well-wishes from the fourth grade students at Rio San Gabriel Elementary. Students wrote hundreds of heartfelt letters, thanking Saavedra for his service and calling him their hero.
On Monday, Saavedra visited the school to personally thank the kids and share details about the life of a service member.
Saavedra grew up in Downey, attending Old River Elementary, West Middle School and Warren High. He joined the Navy at age 20. The military, he said, offered discipline, world travel and an education.
He was deployed twice, traveling to Hong Kong, South Korea, Australia, Dubai, Malaysia and elsewhere, 10 countries in total. He returned from his latest deployment in May.
"I love my job," Saavedra told the kids, who sat cross-legged in the campus cafeteria. "My job itself is not hard but being away from my family is difficult."
Saavedra is married to Brittany, a Downey High graduate. They have two kids: Joshua, 6, and Dylan, 3.
Saavedra said he was not expecting the letters, which arrived in April while the USS Carl Vinson was stationed in the Persian Gulf. The letters boosted the spirits of Saavedra and fellow crew members.
"They were kind of neat," Saavedra said. "They called me their hero and thanked me for serving. It was a boost of morale."
Saavedra didn't write back because he was scheduled to return home a month later and preferred to say "thank you" in person.
Students on Monday appeared enthralled with Saavedra, peppering him with questions about life on an aircraft carrier. They cheered when Saavedra said crew members often pass the time playing video games.
Students gave Saavedra loud applause at the end of his presentation.
Saavedra said he is considering reenlisting in the Navy but will first consult with his wife.
The USS Carl Vinson made headlines last year when the carrier disposed of the body of Osama bin Laden.