By Stephen M. Silverman
Updated December 23, 2003 01:00 PM

Ben Affleck spread a little holiday cheer Monday when he greeted some 5,300 sailors and Marines — both men and women — aboard the USS Enterprise aircraft carrier in the Persian Gulf, reports the Associated Press.

“Thank you for your dedication, your service to the navy and to this country,” Affleck, 31, said from the bridge on the nuclear-powered carrier, whose crew has been on active service in the Persian Gulf since their deployment in August. “You are loved and missed back home and we await your safe return.”

The actor, who screened his new movie “Paycheck” onboard, also signed autographs and shared a meal — and cracked jokes about the recent capture of Saddam Hussein. Affleck later visited the USS Gettysburg, a guided-missile cruiser.

Affleck, who has been in the headlines this year (a whole lot), also told AP from Los Angeles that he and Jennifer Lopez are partly to blame for the media circus surrounding their wedding plans because they made themselves “too available.”

As Affleck reflected: “I had kind of been through it with (ex-girlfriend Gwyneth Paltrow) and thought, ‘What’s the worst that could happen? How many articles could you write?’ Well, I found out the answer to that question, and it wasn’t what I expected.

“By the same token, I live a life that I could more or less be proud of,” he said, adding, too, that his movie with J.Lo, “Gigli,” was “a big bombarooni.”