Denfeld News

March 17, 2003
Duluth News Tribune

Duluth sailor knows the drill
By Chuck Frederick

He’s hardly a poster boy for “America’s Fighting Forces,” but West Duluth’s David Haugen is no less a member of their ranks.

He doesn’t wear camouflage or carry a gun. Instead, he dons scrubs and wields a drill for the Navy. The 1991 Denfeld graduate is aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln, an aircraft carrier in the Persian Gulf poised for a possible attack against Iraq.

Haugen, a graduate of the University of Minnesota Duluth, plays a role in the military that’s as vital as many but is easy to overlook or take for granted.

He’s a dentist.

“The motto here is, ‘If you can’t bite, you can’t fight,’” Haugen, 30, said in a News Tribune interview conducted via e-mail.

“I look at it this way,” he wrote. “If that pilot is up there flying a mission and he has a toothache (or other) problem, he isn’t able to do his job at 100 percent. That’s where the dentist plays a crucial role, making sure everyone is dentally ready.”

The Abraham Lincoln has about 5,000 crew members on board. The ship’s dental office — with three dentists, three cleaning technicians, an oral surgeon and a hygienist — sees about 100 of them every day. Hours are long. Haugen said he works as many as 10 hours a day, sometimes seven days a week.

“It’s like being the dentist of a small city,” he wrote.

Which probably makes for a good fit. If Duluth and its West Duluth neighborhood can be considered small, then Haugen hails from a small town and looks forward to private practice in a small town — if war doesn’t change everything.

Haugen signed up for three years of active duty in exchange for dental school at Marquette University in Milwaukee. His three years are up in June. But the tuition-for-service arrangement also included five years of service in the Navy reserves. With so much uncertainty around the globe, how those five years play out is anyone’s guess.

“Everything is really up in the air,” said Haugen’s wife, Holly, a dental assistant. The couple has two sons, Zachery, 7, and Sebastian, 2.

“I try not to focus on the world events too much or think about it too much,” said Holly, who grew up in Morgan Park and whose family lives in Superior. “That would make the time he’s away really seem long.”

The Haugens last saw each other in June, eight months ago. He used to call every week, but tightening security has limited that. He hasn’t telephoned in more than a month. Holly Haugen fears daily e-mail letters from her husband also will be restricted soon.

Both David and Holly Haugen say they are trying to stay busy until they can be together again and go house hunting, or to some of Zachery’s hockey games or soccer games, or until they can go to Mass again at St. James Catholic Church.

In addition to working, David Haugen reads, listens to music, watches movies, hosts a radio show for his shipmates and exercises. He’s lost 10 pounds since leaving Duluth.

“In your off time, you try not to think about it too much. The time will just eat away at you,” Haugen wrote. “When I left, my boys had just turned 2 and 7.... I just received a current picture of them and I can’t believe how fast they grow.

“I don’t know when I’ll see them again,” he wrote. “I have been extended out here past my due date with no return in sight.”

Holly Haugen volunteers in Zachery’s classroom and in the St. James school cafeteria. Every night, she and her boys pray together for peace and for Daddy to come home soon. They pray the rosary. Then they kiss good night the two pictures of David that Holly keeps next to her bed.

“Family, friends and faith have helped me tremendously,” Holly Haugen said. “He’s been gone so long. There’s got to be light at the end of the tunnel soon.”

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