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10 Deaths in 10 Months: String of Suicides on a Single Aircraft Carrier

SeaKingTacco

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A lot of it has to do with how they treat their sailors when a ship the size of an aircraft carrier is in refit. There is no good solution for housing 4000 sailors and the ship is probably at a contractor yard, without amenities.
 

Navy_Pete

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A lot of it has to do with how they treat their sailors when a ship the size of an aircraft carrier is in refit. There is no good solution for housing 4000 sailors and the ship is probably at a contractor yard, without amenities.
They don't need a lot of the sailors on site during a refit, do they seriously not just leave them back at home port? We put our folks up in normal R&Q (ie hotels with per diems) when they are working on refits out of home port, and living on board isn't even an option as there are no services at all, and they'd just be in the way frankly.

With a society as litigious as the US, crazy to me they have people living on the ship while they are doing a refit just for the liability to the contractor alone.
 

daftandbarmy

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They don't need a lot of the sailors on site during a refit, do they seriously not just leave them back at home port? We put our folks up in normal R&Q (ie hotels with per diems) when they are working on refits out of home port, and living on board isn't even an option as there are no services at all, and they'd just be in the way frankly.

With a society as litigious as the US, crazy to me they have people living on the ship while they are doing a refit just for the liability to the contractor alone.

Or it could burn:

Navy report blames crew for devastating fire on the Bonhomme Richard​



 

dimsum

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We put our folks up in normal R&Q (ie hotels with per diems) when they are working on refits out of home port
Thing is, as much as we love to complain about our conditions, we aren't really all that bad compared to others (like the USN).
 

Navy_Pete

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Or it could burn:

Navy report blames crew for devastating fire on the Bonhomme Richard​



The full report is pretty eye opening, but that one was different as they were alongside home port, so would have had basic hotel services onboard and fire fighting equipment/systems partially available; that's really no different than our post DWP extended work periods (which could have easily had the exact same scenario). Usually you'll have some stuff out of service but it's generally kind of limited and you plan around it.

DWPs are much, much bigger in scope, and normally even the ship power distribution is shut down, along with all the taps, toilets etc. If an alongside work period is like living in a house being renovated, this is more like living in a house being built. There will be entire decks out, constant grinding, needle gunning (which hammers right into your soul from several sections away), welding etc etc, poor ventilation, whatever.

Especially with COVID, sure they could have gotten great deals on long term quarters for that many people; I'm sure hotels would have given them awesome rates and been happy to have the business.

For an organization with so much funding, something the US military cheaps out on the stupidest things.
 

dimsum

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For an organization with so much funding, something the US military cheaps out on the stupidest things.
I wonder if it's the same issue as us with "buckets of money" that can't transfer, institutional "it was like this when I was in, so it will be like this for you" mindset, or if the money isn't actually all that different per capita (per ship? per...something?) than other militaries.

On paper, they get a ton of money. But, what are the costs of keeping all those ships, shore installations, etc?
 

Blackadder1916

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I wonder if it's the same issue as us with "buckets of money" that can't transfer, institutional "it was like this when I was in, so it will be like this for you" mindset, or if the money isn't actually all that different per capita (per ship? per...something?) than other militaries.

On paper, they get a ton of money. But, what are the costs of keeping all those ships, shore installations, etc?

I suppose "buckets of money" is relative. Authorizing junior enlisted to live ashore or not in government accommodation would also authorize Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH) for all those single E4/5 and below. One rough estimate is that the US military currently provides BAH to the tune of $22 billion per year, and though the number of pers whose "government provided accommodation" is a rack on a ship is probably a small portion of the roughly 30% of active duty who don't receive BAH, there would likely be need of an extra billion or two to provide it to sailors to live ashore.
 

Navy_Pete

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I suppose "buckets of money" is relative. Authorizing junior enlisted to live ashore or not in government accommodation would also authorize Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH) for all those single E4/5 and below. One rough estimate is that the US military currently provides BAH to the tune of $22 billion per year, and though the number of pers whose "government provided accommodation" is a rack on a ship is probably a small portion of the roughly 30% of active duty who don't receive BAH, there would likely be need of an extra billion or two to provide it to sailors to live ashore.

Sure, but really just talking about for the duration of the DWP. They probably really only need a fraction of the crew for this project, and if doing the refit there means an extra few million for shore accommodations while the ship is torn apart that's just part of the project cost.

This looks like a lot of preventable deaths, and unecessary hardship for the rest of them, which is crazy. I'm sure cold hearted bean counter could figure out the actual 'lost opportunity' cost for the training and experience of the people who died, but holy shit; how many suicides do they need before taking some action? This is just really sad.
 

quadrapiper

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...institutional "it was like this when I was in, so it will be like this for you" mindset...
Berthing barges from the late 1940s, at your service.

Not sure how something that likely made a great deal of sense as a flexible wartime/early Cold War stopgap became a standing part of USN life.
 

Blackadder1916

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Berthing barges from the late 1940s, at your service.

Not sure how something that likely made a great deal of sense as a flexible wartime/early Cold War stopgap became a standing part of USN life.

They have 19 berthing barges in service. https://www.nvr.navy.mil/NVRSHIPS/HULL_SHIPS_BY_CATEGORY_APL_54.HTML

Not always a good solution.

Life on a Navy ship is not known for being a comfortable and enjoyable experience. It is crowded, loud, smelly, and generally miserable. But if the U.S. military teaches you anything, it is that things always have the potential to get worse.

Enter the Auxiliary Personnel Lighter (APL), the Navy’s solution for temporarily housing sailors when their warships are uninhabitable because of repairs, giant fires, or anything else that would keep them ashore for longer than usual.

Also known as a Berthing and Messing Barge, the floating barracks is essentially an 82-meter long gray-white building the Navy can place on the water that has no means of propulsion, armaments, or soul.

The Navy’s newest berthing barge, APL-67, sailed from VT Halter Marine’s Mississippi shipyard this week en route to Naval Base San Diego for its eventual delivery to Yokosuka, Japan.

In theory, they should be better than ships. These barracks barges can house up to 611 sailors broken down into 537 enlisted and 74 officers. They have everything sailors need to continue their day-to-day life as if they were still on the ship such as offices, medical facilities, a barbershop, a gym, and dining areas that can seat up to 224 enlisted and 28 officers at a time, “allowing food service for 1,130 personnel to have three meals a day,” according to Navy.

But they aren’t better, according to sailors. Not by a long shot.

To start, most of the Navy’s berthing barges are old as hell. At the moment, 13 of the service’s current fleet of 18 were built between 1944 and 1946, back when lead paint and asbestos were industry standards and ‘quality of life’ wasn’t even a phrase. Their newest one was over 20 years old before the service took delivery of APL-67 last week.

And according to folks on social media, they’re also noisy, dirty, and nothing works — at least, on the older models. One person on Twitter compared them to a decades-old neglected motel:

Imagine checking into a hotel room in your hometown. Maybe your house is being fumigated. The hotel cleaning staff haven't checked into work for 30 years. Every former guest has left something disgusting behind. Now add dock workers and a barely functioning PA system. pic.twitter.com/hTHt8IbkrT

— Hindsight and the plague are 2020 (@BuckeyeEng) July 26, 2021

Sailors on Reddit were overwhelmingly anti-barge. One called living the experience “literally the shittiest thing the [N]avy ever did to me.”

The Navy has a floating barracks that is somehow worse than living on an actual ship

“It’s literally the worst experience of my life,” wrote another. “It was so bad that on duty days I would sleep on the ship (which had no AC and I live in Florida). Ours was infested with roaches and bed bugs. I and many others I know wouldn’t even shower on it.”

And another said, “Prepare to live with cockroaches and mice. Here’s some advice, get an apartment.”

The most scathing criticism we found stated simply: “When we were assigned a barge when our ship was decommissioning it was the most vile, disgusting thing I had ever been aboard.”

Indeed, an informal poll Task & Purpose posted on Instagram was overwhelmingly against berthing barges with 64 percent of respondents preferring ships. That’s really saying something considering how unpleasant life on a standard Navy ship can be.

Fortunately for the sailors who have to live on them, not everything is awful. According to the service, the berthing areas (where you sleep) only hold 18-24 sailors and have the heads (bathrooms) attached to them. This seems better than having possibly hundreds of sailors crammed in one area and the heads scattered all over like on most Navy ships.

Indeed, some sailors enjoyed the experience. In a 2018 interview with the Kitsap Sun, Mass Communication Specialist Third Class Christopher Jahnke stated that “As a single sailor, there’s pretty much everything I could want or need here.” Not exactly a glowing recommendation, but that’s about as positive you can be in the Navy, I guess.

While everything in the U.S. military has pros and cons, leave it up to the Navy to find a way to make living on a cramped, unstable, and smelly ship preferable to an alternative. Hopefully, this new barge is a drastic improvement over the old, but, as with most other major Navy projects, only time will tell.
 

daftandbarmy

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They have 19 berthing barges in service. https://www.nvr.navy.mil/NVRSHIPS/HULL_SHIPS_BY_CATEGORY_APL_54.HTML

Not always a good solution.


I'm no Navy guy but have spent some time on 'STUFT' shipping, mainly RORO ferries that might earn '3 stars' in the hospitality sector.

They were excellent, and big enough to hold a battalion of troops or so.

Why they couldn't rent a few modern cruise ships etc instead is a mystery.
 

Blackadder1916

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I'm no Navy guy but have spent some time on 'STUFT' shipping, mainly RORO ferries that might earn '3 stars' in the hospitality sector.

They were excellent, and big enough to hold a battalion of troops or so.

Why they couldn't rent a few modern cruise ships etc instead is a mystery.

Because it's the US Navy, I don't think they spend a lot of time thinking of ways to make sailors more comfortable. Junior sailors (up to E4/E5) without dependents do not get an automatic choice not to occupy government assigned quarters (i.e., a rack on board ship). Even during refit, the Navy's go to plan seems to be to determine availability of quarters aboard ship, at nearby bases or on barracks barges before taking any other measures. They don't like authorizing BAH for junior single sailors because the entitlement remains even when their ship deploys. It may be partly because they want to have an available workforce on the ship even during refit.

10.1.7. Service Member on Sea Duty. A Service member assigned on permanent duty to a ship ordinarily has Government Quarters available aboard that ship. The Secretary Concerned may determine that a ship or class of ships is inadequate for berthing a member in home port, in which case the ship or class of ships is not available as Government Quarters for housing allowance purposes. When quarters aboard a ship, deemed adequate for berthing, become temporarily unavailable due to maintenance or damage, Government Quarters are no longer available onboard the ship. The Service concerned provides guidance on payment of housing allowances or alternate berthing procedure for ships that become temporarily unavailable for berthing.

10.1.7.1. A Service member without a dependent in grade E-6 or above assigned to permanent sea duty aboard a ship may elect not to occupy assigned shipboard Government quarters and receive BAH or OHA. A Service member in pay grade E-6 or above is authorized to receive BAH or OHA after reporting to a deployed ship or afloat unit.

10.1.7.2. A Service member without a dependent in grade E-5 assigned to permanent sea duty aboard a ship cannot elect not to occupy assigned shipboard Government quarters and receive BAH or OHA. Under Service regulations, the Secretary concerned may authorize BAH or OHA to a Service member without a dependent who is serving in grade E-5 and is assigned to sea duty. When preparing regulations under this paragraph, the Secretary concerned must consider Government quarters availability for a Service member serving in grade E-5.

10.1.7.3. A Service member without a dependent in grade E-4 assigned to permanent sea duty aboard a ship cannot elect not to occupy assigned shipboard Government quarters and receive BAH or OHA. Under Service regulations, the Secretary concerned may authorize BAH or OHA to a Service member without a dependent who is serving in grade E-4 and is assigned to sea duty. When preparing regulations under this paragraph, the Secretary concerned must consider Government quarters availability for a Service member serving in grade E-4.

10.1.7.4. A Service member married to another Service member who is in a pay grade below E-6 is authorized BAH or OHA if assigned to permanent sea duty.
 

OldSolduer

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What ever the problem is - I suspect its a toxic workplace - they better sort it the eff out.
 

Blackadder1916

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I tried coming up with a pithy remark to introduce this aspect of the Navy's response, but I'll stay with my immediate thought - "what an arsehole".


Navy's Top Enlisted Leader Tells George Washington Crew at Least They Aren't 'Sleeping in a Foxhole Like a Marine'​

The Navy's top enlisted leader -- Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy Russell Smith -- told sailors aboard the aircraft carrier USS George Washington on Friday that there is little the branch can do to improve the living conditions aboard the ship.

Military.com reported April 20 that the carrier has experienced a string of suicides going back at least 10 months, including three suicides in a six-day stretch earlier this month.

In the wake of these deaths, Smith came aboard the ship and took questions from the crew. According to a transcript provided by the Navy, Smith began the session by telling the sailors that they "shouldn't have clapped yet, cause you don't know if I'm gonna say anything that's worth clapping for, but I appreciate that."

The thrust of several of the questions posed to Smith focused on tough conditions endured by the crew that they say are fueling the crisis. When one sailor noted that "ships in the shipyard have higher rates of mental health issues and suicides," Smith replied that, "Anecdotally, I believe the same thing."

But the top enlisted sailor's remarks offered nothing in the way of planned changes and were viewed by several sailors who attended and spoke to Military.com as lacking compassion.

The remark that stuck out to many of the sailors aboard -- so much so that it generated a substantial reaction in Navy-focused social media groups -- came when Smith told a sailor who had asked about living conditions that the Navy "probably could have done better to manage your expectations coming in here."

Smith explained that "legally and from a safety perspective" the Navy was driven to move some of the crew onboard, before moving to an anecdote about him having to endure unpleasant conditions himself while stationed aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln.

The George Washington has been undergoing a massive refueling and complex overhaul at Newport News since 2017. The maintenance period, which typically lasts four years, is usually done halfway through a carrier's 50-year life to refuel the nuclear reactor and see to repairs and upgrades.

In 2019, the ship was scheduled to be done in 2021. By 2020, that had changed to 2022.

Sailors who spoke to Military.com described conditions on the ship that make life aboard incredibly difficult. Some crew members have had to endure an active construction zone, complete with constant noise from power tools and outages to services like electricity and hot water.

Meanwhile, sailors who live off the ship describe hours-long commutes that involve parking far from the carrier and taking shuttle buses and mile-long walks.

"I hear your concerns and you should always raise them, but you have to do so with reasonable expectations and then understanding what … what this is like," Smith told the crew.

'What you're not doing is sleeping in a foxhole like a Marine might be doing."

The analogy struck one sailor who was present as underscoring the very problem facing the crew. "That should say something .... It ain't even a f---ing combat zone," the sailor said.

"You got people just going to work and coming home and f---ing killing themselves; they're not even out there getting shot at or watching their friends die," they added. "It's just making it sound like the Navy has no intention of doing a single thing about [conditions aboard the ship] to make it even a little bit easier."

Smith went on to explain that hardships like the ones the sailors describe are part of military service. "When someone walks by you at Starbucks when you're in uniform and says 'thank you for your service,' this is one of the things that they're thanking you for," he explained. "I'm sorry I can't give you the answer that you want, but that's kind of where we are."

Military.com spoke with two sailors who were present for Smith's remarks, both of whom have been aboard the carrier for several years. They requested anonymity to avoid retaliation from commanders.

Another sailor said that "to do nothing to improve the quality of life for sailors forced to live on board in the first place is unacceptable."

"To imply that those sailors get to 'go home every night' is just tone deaf and uninformed," that sailor added.

In a statement released late Monday night, Smith said that he is "in ongoing discussions with our senior Navy leaders to share these concerns, and to ensure they are aware of the issues and their impacts on our Sailors."

"My heart is with the Sailors on the USS George Washington, who are hurting from loss," the statement said.

However, to the two sailors aboard the George Washington, it was clear that Smith was not empowered to make changes to improve conditions, many of which are directly tied to the Huntington Ingalls facility where the ship resides, they said.

One of the sailors who spoke with Military.com said that "the conditions in that shipyard are a travesty that senior military leaders have ignored for decades -- especially when HII is receiving billions in tax dollars annually."

"No one's gonna walk away from Huntington Ingalls and this facility," Smith said amid an anecdote about how he "damn near got into physical altercations with varying senior military and civilian leaders trying to get 240 million dollars to get a firefighting trainer built at boot camp" -- an attempt to illustrate the lack of available money for more facilities the crew.

Danny Hernandez, a spokesman for Newport News Shipbuilding, referred Military.com back to the Navy when asked about Smith's remarks. In a previous statement about suicides related to the ship, the company said that its "condolences go out to the Navy families and friends, and our shipbuilders, during this time of loss."

Smith's answers did acknowledge that mental health care in the service is lacking, noting that after his own divorce he needed to get some care and was told that he could have an appointment in six weeks.

"The problem is the nation doesn't have a whole lot of psychologists, psychiatrists and other mental health care workers out there in abundance," he said.

The top enlisted sailor briefly touted a decrease in suicides Navy-wide to the crew but quickly admitted: "Does it matter if locally that's not your experience because of what you're dealing with here? Um, it doesn't."

"The Navy has to do better for sailors. It's not an option any longer," the other sailor said.
 

OldSolduer

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I tried coming up with a pithy remark to introduce this aspect of the Navy's response, but I'll stay with my immediate thought - "what an arsehole".


He's the Master Chief of the USN and he says this? Yes what he said is true BUT not an appropriate response to his sailors' concerns.
 

daftandbarmy

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I tried coming up with a pithy remark to introduce this aspect of the Navy's response, but I'll stay with my immediate thought - "what an arsehole".




Meanwhile, on Reddit...


Rude_Macaroon3741
·7 days ago

Deployed with a SEAL Team to Iraq. Living conditions for all were far better than anything on a ship.

https://www.reddit.com/r/navy/comments/uccmhs
 

dimsum

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He's the Master Chief of the USN and he says this? Yes what he said is true BUT not an appropriate response to his sailors' concerns.
"At least you aren't those folks" isn't usually a good response to anything.
 
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