USS Theodore Roosevelt Sailor Commits Suicide in San Diego

theodore roosevelt
USS Theodore Roosevelt under way off San Diego, September 2020 (USN)

Published Oct 14, 2020 8:08 PM by The Maritime Executive

The sailors of the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt lost a crewmate in April when a chief petty officer died of COVID-19. On Tuesday, they lost another when a crewmember took his own life.

At about 0800 hours Tuesday morning, a member of Theodore Roosevelt's crew sustained a self-inflicted gunshot wound while standing a security watch at Naval Air Station North Island in San Diego, according to the Navy. He was taken to UCSD Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead. CGIS is investigating the circumstances of the fatality, a spokesman told Navy Times. 

The factors involved in the death are not yet known, but Theodore Roosevelt has had a challenging year. In March, the carrier aircraft carrier became the first U.S. Navy vessel to report an outbreak of COVID-19. She returned to base at Guam, and after a controversial appeal for help from her commander, more than 4,000 members of her crew were moved into housing on shore for isolation. All of her crew were tested for the virus, and more than 1,100 ultimately returned positive results.

The outbreak took her off patrol for 10 weeks, and she returned to active duty in June. Despite this challenge, USS Theodore Roosevelt has not been spending much of her post-deployment recovery period on downtime. She returned to San Diego in July, and in September she began a series of at-sea aircraft flight exercises off San Diego - often a prelude to a deployment. According to her commander, Capt. Eric Anduze, Theodore Roosevelt qualified a total of 35 F/A-18 and E/A-18 pilots during the month of September. Her crew also carried out about $15 million in repairs and upgrades. 

Sources within the ship's community have told Navy Times that the carrier has been put on notice to prepare to deploy for a second time later this winter - a so-called "double-pump" back-to-back deployment. This form of high-tempo tasking is widely seen as a risk for long-term readiness, as well as a strain on morale.

The  Navy and the Pentagon have not released figures for this year, but suicide rates in other service branches have risen over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the AP. In the Army, the active duty suicide rate is up by 30 percent for 2020; while officials have declined to link the phenomenon to the stressors of the pandemic, they have noted that the timing coincides. “I can't say scientifically, but what I can say is - I can read a chart and a graph, and the numbers have gone up in behavioral health related issues,” Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy told AP in September.