Friday, December 8

Navy allows more than 200 sailors to move off USS George Washington after multiple suicides

More than 200 sailors on the USS George Washington took the opportunity Monday to move off the ship to accommodations at a local installation. The move is part of the Navy’s response to support the crew who lost three shipmates to suicide within one week in April

The commanding officer of the USS George Washington, Capt. Brent Gaut, plans to offer every sailor onboard the option of moving to an off-ship location, according to the Navy. The first 200 moved Monday, and the Navy is making arrangements to move more if desired. 

The USS George Washington has been docked in Norfolk, Virginia, since 2017 for a multi-year overhaul that in the long-term will keep the aircraft carrier serviceable for years to come, but in the short term has effectively turned the ship into a construction zone. 

While the ship is undergoing the overhaul, a certain number of sailors are required aboard in order to provide ship security, run essential equipment, and maintain fire and flood watches. 

The Navy’s top enlisted leader played down the conditions when he visited the aircraft carrier at the end of April. During the visit, according to audio obtained by CBS News, a sailor raised the concern of subpar conditions on the ship, and Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy Russell Smith told him the Navy could’ve done a better job managing sailors’ expectations coming in. 

“I hear your concerns and you should always raise them but you have to do so with reasonable expectations and then understanding what…what this is like,” Smith said. “What you’re not doing is sleeping in a foxhole like a marine might be doing.” 

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The nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS George Washington leaves the US naval base in Yokosuka, 60 kms south of Tokyo, for the last time for refueling and complex overhaul on May 18, 2015. 

TORU YAMANAKA/AFP via Getty Images

CBS News reported last week that in total, seven sailors have died by suicide since the ship entered overhaul in 2017. In addition to the three recent suicides in April, sailors assigned to the George Washington died by suicide in December 2021, October 2020, July 2020, and November 2019. 

It is not clear why the sailors died by suicide, but the Navy has launched an investigation into the recent deaths of sailors assigned to the carrier. The investigation will include command climate and culture issues, and the systemic relationships between them, according to the Navy. 

In addition, the Navy is forming a team to assess the conditions for aircraft carriers undergoing maintenance, and their recommendations will go towards improving quality of life on all carriers. 

The USS George Washington is not the only carrier that has experienced suicides while going through an overhaul. In 2019, the USS George HW Bush lost four shipmates to suicide during its years-long overhaul in Norfolk, Virginia. 

For immediate help if you are in a crisis, call the toll-free National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. All calls are confidential.  

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