Hundreds of sailors being pulled from aircraft carrier after wave of suicides, captain tells crew

The commanding officer of the USS George Washington told his crew Thursday that the Navy It will begin removing sailors from the aircraft carrier following a series of suicides and complaints from service members about conditions aboard the ship, whose projected departure from shipyards has been delayed once again.

Captain Brent Gaut announced that the ship will move 260 sailors “to off-yard barracks-type accommodation at Norfolk Naval Shipyard in Portsmouth,” specifically, a Navy Gateway Inn and Suites, starting Monday, according to a recording of the announcement reviewed by Military. . com.

“We will be able to expand that number to an additional 50 or so beds a week as we figure out exactly what is needed,” Gaut continued.

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The Navy confirmed the plan when asked by, with a spokesperson adding that the moves will continue “until all sailors who wish to exit the ship have done so.”

The move comes at the end of a month in which three sailors aboard the ship died by suicide, after a previously undisclosed string of suicides since at least July of last year. has been able to confirm at least five suicides of sailors assigned to the ship in the last 10 months (the cause of death for one of those sailors has been disputed by the Navy) and eight in total since November 2019.

Also follows a visit to the ship on April 22 by the Navy’s top enlisted officerMaster Chief Petty Officer of the Navy Russell Smith, in which the crew was told that the service is largely unable to improve conditions.

Smith told a sailor who had inquired about living conditions that the Navy “probably could have done better to manage your expectations coming here” before informing the crew that raising concerns should be done “with reasonable expectations and then understand what … what is this”. it is like.”

“What you’re not doing is sleeping in a trench like a Marine might be doing,” he added.

According to the commanding officer, the ship currently has 422 sailors living on board. Since sailors do not normally receive an allowance for quarters until E-5 rank, those who live aboard a ship while it is in a shipyard tend to be the youngest members of the crew.

Gaut expressed the development as the result of his team’s focus on improving the quality of life, mental health and morale of the crew.

The captain noted that sailors will still have to sleep aboard the ship when on duty, a Navy practice in which a portion of the crew stays aboard the ship overnight to be ready to respond to emergencies. Gaut also said sailors will be able to continue living on board if they wish.

Gaut said this arrangement will end about four months before the ship leaves the shipyard, before giving the crew a date that pushes delivery of the carrier to 2023. The Navy has requested that not publish the specific date due to concerns about the operations. security.

The delay is at least the third for the ship since arriving at the Newport News shipyard. In 2019, the ship was scheduled to be done in 2021but a year later that was changed to 2022.

Danny Hernandez, a spokesman for Newport News Shipbuilding, said work on this ship “is nearly complete and our shipbuilding team is focused on getting a fully recapitalized carrier back to the fleet as soon as possible.”

The news comes as details about who died aboard the carrier and how are slowly coming to light amid conflicting messages reported by the crew.

Sailors reported to that Gaut told the crew on April 11 that the ship had had nine suicides in nine months. Another death followed on April 15; Gaut told the crew that it was also a suicide. The Navy has yet to confirm or deny that Gaut passed on those numbers to the crew.

When contacted the Navy last week, Lt. Cmdr. Robert Meyers, a spokesman for Commander Naval Air Force Atlantic, said the service was aware of only seven deaths, not necessarily suicides, aboard the ship in the past 12 months.

The Navy did not provide details on who those sailors were and referred to local law enforcement to determine the cause of death.

A subsequent Navy statement said the three April deaths were “apparent suicides,” while the other four 2021 deaths were as follows: a suicide in December; a “health-related death” in October; an “undetermined” death in July; and another “health-related death” in May.

The Navy also revealed that there were three additional suicides dating back to November 2019.

This effectively brought the official count to seven deaths in 12 months, with four suicides. Once again, no names were provided.

By talking to crew members and listening to other recordings of Gaut addressing the ship, was able to identify some of the other sailors who have died aboard the George Washington in the past nine months.

The July death, which the Navy statement called “undetermined,” was ruled by the Virginia Office of the Medical Examiner as a suicide, according to documents provided by email from the office.

Still, when Gaut addressed his crew Tuesday, he said the ship had experienced three suicides and three additional deaths in nine months, contradicting official Navy statements and his earlier statement to the crew, according to sailors who they spoke with Military. com.

Regardless of the final tally, George Washington has experienced an unprecedented cluster of suicides in recent years, though suicide rates have risen alarmingly for service members across all services.

Rear Admiral John Meier, commander of Naval Air Force Atlantic, said in a statement this week that “while the Navy is a resilient force, we are not immune to the same challenges that affect the nation we serve.”

“My staff and I are working daily, and aggressively, to ensure that support and resources are available for sailors in shipyards, at sea, and at home,” he added.

If you or someone you know needs help, the Veterans Crisis Hotline is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, at 800-273-8255, press 1. Services are also available online at or by text message, 838255.

— Konstantin Toropin can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @ktoropin.

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