Seven Navy sailors assigned to the USS George Washington killed themselves during the time the carrier underwent a year-long overhaul in Newport News, Virginia, the Navy said Thursday.
The Navy acknowledged Thursday that in addition to the four suicides In the last year that CBS News reported, three more sailors assigned to the aircraft carrier committed suicide in 2019 and 2020.
The three suicides in 2019 and 2020 occurred while the USS George Washington was under the command of Captain Kenneth Strong. According to the Navy, Strong left ship three months ahead of schedule due to “individual incidents of poor judgment and leadership acumen.” Despite his early departure, Strong was awarded a Legion of Merit for, among other things, scoring 98% on the 2019 Occupational Health and Safety Management Assessment.
Living and working conditions on the aircraft carrier present challenges for sailors. While she is in the shipyard, the George Washington is essentially a construction zone, where she can be cramped, hot and noisy for the crew on board.
One of the ship’s crew told CBS News that “it looks like Big Navy has left us out to dry. Nobody cares.”
After reports that three sailors had died by suicide in a single week in April, the Navy opened an investigation last week in their deaths. He is examining whether living conditions on the carrier played a role in the suicides and whether the ship’s commanders went to great lengths to make conditions as acceptable as possible.
USS George Washington Overhaul Is Overdue: The COVID-19 pandemic and the need for unexpected repairs have kept the carrier in the yard for nearly a year longer than expected. The carrier has been docked at Newport News Shipbuilding for a major overhaul since 2017.
The Navy’s top enlisted leader, Navy Chief Petty Officer Russell Smith, visited the carrier last week and fielded questions from Sailors. In response to a question about living conditions on the ship, Smith said, “I think we probably could have done better to manage your expectations coming here,” according to audio and a transcript of the carrier visit.
“What you’re not doing is sleeping in a trench like a Marine might be doing. What you’re doing is going home at night, most nights,” Smith said, adding: “The downside is part of the shit you have to do.” going through logistically will drive you crazy.
The USS George Washington is not the first aircraft carrier to experience a wave of suicides as it undergoes a major overhaul. In September 2019, three sailors assigned to the USS George HW Bush committed suicide within a week while the ship was undergoing restoration in Virginia.
The Pentagon launched the Suicide Prevention and Response Independent Review Committee in March to review prevention activities. Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said earlier this month that the committee will look at conditions across the force, including those on ships.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the president is aware of the situation and is concerned about the mental health of service members.
“Certainly the president is regularly briefed and aware, and serving men and women and the stress and pressure on them is something he has on his mind, including making sure we have the right mental health care, the right treatments.” . for anyone who may be suffering from depression or anything that could lead to suicide,” she said.
For immediate help if you are in a crisis, call the toll-free number National Lifeline for Suicide Prevention in 1-800-273-TALK (8255), available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. All calls are confidential.