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After Three Suicides on U.S. Carrier, Crewmembers Voice Concerns

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USS George Washington at Newport News, 2019 (USN file image)

Published Apr 28, 2022 6:12 PM by The Maritime Executive

The U.S. Navy believes that the three recent deaths amongst the crew of the carrier USS George Washington were all suicides, prompting an effort to provide support for the ship's crewmembers and look for any root causes behind the fatalities. In all, seven people aboard Washington have died over the last 12 months from various causes, according to CNN.

George Washington has been at Newport News Shipyard for its mid-life overhaul since 2017, and some crewmembers have reported challenging living and working conditions on board. “It’s not a place for first-time sailors, where you’re sold all this stuff from a recruiter and you’re thrown on this ship where stuff doesn’t even work, berthings aren’t clean, bathrooms aren’t cleaned,” one crewmember told Navy Times.

In a conversation with the service's top enlisted officer on April 22, several George Washington crewmembers voiced concerns about the conditions found on a carrier in long-term overhaul. Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy Russell Smith responded that they might have to temper their expectations.

“What you're not doing is sleeping in a foxhole like a Marine might be doing. What you are doing is going home at night most nights,” Smith said. “What I can tell you is, this is what happens on a carrier in [overhaul], and at some point, you've got to shut some of the water down and shut some of the other hotel services down and they're gonna have to move around who's living on the ship in order to make it work and meet the safety requirements. Because you also don't want to not have this thing manned, if a fire breaks out or something else - because we've also been through that."

In response to concerns about stress aboard the ship, the Navy has hired extra chaplains for George Washington and dispatched a response team of psychiatrists. But some are calling for more action. 

“Each death is a tragedy, and the number of incidents under a single command raises significant concern that requires immediate and stringent inquiry to ensure the safety and wellbeing of the ship’s crew,” wrote former surface warfare officer Rep. Elaine Luria (D-VA) in a letter to the Navy's top officer this week. “This indicates an urgent need to understand if there are endemic problems within the command, safety concerns, or other contributing issues."