Carrier USS Bush Mourns After Three Suicides in One Week

Sailors grieve at a memorial service for Machinist's Mate 3rd Class Robert "Bobby" John Bartulewicz III, who died by suicide in July. After three more incidents last week, the USS Bush has lost five crewmembers by suicide in two years.

Published Sep 25, 2019 9:35 PM by The Maritime Executive

Last week, three sailors assigned to the carrier USS George H.W. Bush died in unrelated off-ship incidents, all believed to be suicide. The Navy is working with local investigators to examine the circumstances of the deaths. 

"My heart is broken," said the carrier's commanding officer, Capt. Sean Bailey, in a message to the crew. "These deaths mark the third, fourth, and fifth crewmember suicides in the last two years. Now is the time to come together as a crew and as a family to grieve, to support each other, and to care for those in need."

Capt. Bailey encouraged members of the crew to speak with chaplains, psychologists and counselors who are onboard to provide support. He also asked sailors to watch closely for signs of stress amongst their crewmates, especially those experiencing relationship problems, financial difficulties or career issues. 

George H.W. Bush is currently drydocked at Newport News Shipyard, and the incidents occurred off base. The victims - Aviation Ordnanceman 1st Class Vincent Forline, Chief Electronics Technician-Nuclear James Shelton and Airman Ethan Stuart - were all found separately, and none served in the same department. All have been ruled suicides, and local and NCIS authorities have not found any evidence of a link between them, according to the Navy. 

The previous victim, Machinist’s Mate 3rd Class Robert John Bartulewicz III, died by an apparent suicide on July 16. Separately, crewmember Airman Juan Gerardo Medina-Reynaga was killed by base security August 2 after a car chase at Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek.

USS Bush crewmembers who spoke to the New York Times alleged that those who self-reported emotional difficulties often saw their careers derailed, despite leadership's emphasis on a no-penalty reporting culture. 

The U.S. Navy's suicide rate has doubled since 2006, and it currently stands at about 20 incidents per 100,000 servicemembers per year, above the overall civilian rate of 14 per 100,000. The civilian rate for the population matching the Navy's demographics - a more exact comparison - is higher at 27 per 100,000. 

In an editorial published Wednesday, Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy Russell Smith appealed to all sailors to check in on their crewmates, including their superiors. "As your shipmates, we will be looking for you, but you don’t have to wait for us to discern that you are the one who must take a knee for a time. Help us, so we can help you, and then we will get after the enemy—together," said MCPON Smith.