NEWPORT NEWS, Va.(WAVY) — The Navy’s most senior enlisted leader spoke with crew members of the USS George Washington following three apparent suicides in a week’s span by those serving on the ship.
Master Chief Petty Officer Russell Smith released a statement saying it was his “responsibility to visit the Fleet and hear from Sailors, who may be struggling or are facing personal issues that they need to an advocate for.”
The visit comes following the Navy’s investigation into the USS George Washington aircraft carrier’s culture and leadership after seven people assigned to the ship died over the last year.
According to the Navy, three died from apparent suicide, one from suicide, one from health issues, one from post-COVID related complications, and one undetermined.
“My heart is with the Sailors on the USS George Washington, who are hurting from loss,” Smith said in his statement.
During his nearly hour meeting at an All-Hands Call with sailors, Smith discussed many of their questions about what’s being done to prevent suicide.
According to a Department of Defense report, suicides have dropped yearly in the Navy but Smith says they acknowledge it’s still a problem.
“If I, when I tell you that suicides five percentage across the Navy have actually gone down this year, unlike a couple of other services, does it matter if locally that’s not your experience because of what you’re dealing with here?” he said.
Smith told the group that beating suicide is like beating cancer because there are so many different causes and reasons. The Navy is working on providing more mental healthcare.
“We just hired 133 new workers. We have more DCRs than we’ve ever had. We’re putting chaplains on destroyers and smaller ships, which have never had their own. But, we are also each other’s counselors,” he said.
While they’re working to hire more, Smith says getting more mental healthcare workers has been difficult because there’s a shortage nationwide, so it’s important for leadership onboard ships to sit down with those struggling and ask them what’s going on. He also said sailors should lean on each other because they know what each other is going through the best.
“You know each other better than any app or prediction tool is ever gonna tell somebody about what’s going on with you,” he said. “And we’re often gonna be the first ones who are gonna see that and say ‘Hey, you need to talk to somebody, talk to me. And if I’m not enough, because what you need is some advanced help. We’ll go get you back.’ But look out for each other, ’cause we are each other’s keepers.”
Sailors brought up concerns about conditions while the Washington is undergoing maintenance such as power outages, cold water, food shortages, and more.
They also expressed concerns that suicide rates might be higher for those undergoing refueling and maintenance.
Smith says that other shipyards and bases have different types of clinics and services that have seemed to help with the mental healthcare of sailors.
For the full transcript, click here.