Get Task & Purpose in your inbox
Amid 7th Fleet Turmoil, Sailors Open Up About The Navy’s Silent Threat: Sleep Deprivation
“I don't think I can remember not being completely exhausted on watch, be it the middle of the day or the seven-to-forever,” says August Sorvillo, a former Navy quartermaster who helped his ships navigate all manners of challenging channels and anchorages. “It's safe to say I've bought enough Red Bull, Monster, and Rip-Its that I could [have made] a sizable down payment on a house.”
Lori Schulze Buresh, a former surface warfare officer, still cringes thinking about the deployment where she stood the Navy’s notorious “five and dime” watches: five hours on, 10 off, then repeat — no matter what time of day or night. “The hardest part is being awake at some point every night and still doing a job all day,” she says. “It is hard on a body and hard on the mind.”
After four different groundings and collisions in less than a year in its Japan-based 7th Fleet — including the crashes of the advanced guided-missile destroyers USS Fitzgerald and USS McCain this summer, leaving 17 sailors dead or missing — the Navy is cleaning house and doing some soul-searching. But beyond the particulars of each incident, service officials are intent on identifying broader issues that may leave crews more prone to deadly accidents.
Many current and former sailors have a suggestion for the Navy: Let your crews sleep more.
It’s not a new refrain: Sleep deprivation, long a fixture in all the military services, is accepted by most sailors as a way of life, made slightly more bearable by strong coffee, midrats, and SWOnuts. In the naval service, “Sleep when you’re dead” is the unwritten 11th general order.
‘Watch rotations… aren’t conducive to sleep’
But science shows that this hard-charging ethos can yield a fleet of well-trained watchstanding zombies. In a 2012 military study, 39% of sailors reported that they were “frequently not getting enough restful sleep to function well at work and in their personal lives.” Previous studies have suggested that surface sailors lose out on five to nine hours of sleep every week they’re underway.
In 2015, the RAND Corporation published a two-year survey on sleep in the military, and the findings were dire. It showed “a high prevalence of insufficient sleep duration, poor sleep quality, daytime sleepiness, fatigue, and nightmares” across the military — particularly in the fleet.
RAND found that out of all military communities, the Navy alone had one significant red flag: Sailors “with prior deployments had greater sleep-related daytime impairment than those without a prior deployment.” This is especially problematic for surface ships, which lean heavily on mid-level officers and petty officers with prior underway experience to conduct bridge and combat information center watches that are critical to safe navigation.
“We have environments in the Navy and the Marine Corps that aren’t conducive to sleep, watch rotations that aren’t conducive to sleep, and people don’t always pay a whole lot of attention to that,” one sailor told the RAND researchers.
Navy/Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Chad RungeA first-year midshipman, or plebe, rests after participating in the ground combat portion U.S. Naval Academy’s annual Sea Trials.
‘I have seen and heard things that weren’t there’
The problem is significant enough that when one sailor responded to the McCain collision by sharing her daily work schedule and sleep problems on Reddit this week, the thread exploded with hundreds of commiserating comments from vets of the surface, sub, and naval air communities.
“I averaged 3 hours of sleep a night” on a destroyer and cruiser, the sailor wrote:
I have personally gone without sleep for so long that I have seen and heard things that weren't there. I've witnessed accidents that could have been avoided because the person was so tired they had no right to be operating heavy machinery, including an incident in which someone got descalped and someone else almost losing a finger.
The responses, from veterans and civilians, were wrenching. “I work for an airline,” one commenter said. “If we operated on this schedule they would [shut] us down so fast we couldn't even look.”
Setting the ‘circadian watchbill’
The Navy knows sleep deprivation is a perpetual problem in its ranks. “Fatigue has measurable negative effects on readiness, effectiveness and safety,” Vice Adm. Thomas Rowden, commander of Naval Surface Force—Pacific, said in a fleet-wide message in 2016. “After a day without sleep, human performance drops to dangerously ineffective levels.”
Rowden and other senior Navy leaders have been taking pointers on keeping a ship’s crew well-rested from a “Crew Endurance Team” of military and civilian experts at the Naval Postgraduate School. Their suggestions include setting a “circadian watchbill” — organizing watches to conform to a 24-hour rotation, more in line with the human body’s natural sleep rhythms.
Asked whether any of 7th Fleet’s mishaps could be directly attributable to sleep and fatigue issues, the sailors are more circumspect. For one thing, there are no easy fixes; for another, everyone’s really busy and tired most of the time.
“It’s a factor, but it’s always been a factor,” one former surface officer told Task & Purpose. “But you’ve got to have watches.”
‘The practice briefing for the pre-briefing’
The officer says that sleep deprivation may be less of a cause than a symptom of bloat in sailors’ responsibilities, including arcane online training requirements (also a target of Secretary of Defense James Mattis), collateral duties, and a host of chores you don’t have to do, but should, like “the practice briefing for the pre-briefing, because the XO didn’t think we were ready [to brief the CO] yet.”
“The focus on collateral duties in our modern Navy [owns] part of the blame for a lot of missed days of sleep,” Sorvillo, the enlisted navigator, says. “On my last ship I, as well as quite a few others, had at least two full time duties to perform before going on watch... Eighteen to twenty hour days was the norm for six to eight months.”
Regardless of whether sleepy sailors can keep it together for a successful bridge watch, the Navy’s grueling schedules may wreck their crews even after getting out of uniform: Research suggests that fatigue problems, once programmed into a service member’s biology, can follow them for life. “[O]nce initiated, sleep disturbances may follow a persistent course, lasting for years after deployment,” RAND’s study concluded. The authors added that “sleep problems are prevalent, debilitating, and persistent in servicemember populations in the post-deployment period.”
That’s no news to Sorvillo. “I've been diagnosed with chronic insomnia,” he told Task & Purpose.
Despite leaving the fleet in 2009, he says, “I still get at most four hours of sleep a night.”
The U.S. Space Force has a name tape for uniforms now. Get excited people.
In a tweet from its official account, the Space Force said its uniform name tapes have "touched down in the Pentagon," sharing a photo of it on the chest of Gen. John W. Raymond, the newly-minted Chief of Space Operations for the new service branch nested in the Department of the Air Force.
PALM BEACH, Fla. (Reuters) - U.S. President Donald Trump gave a minute-to-minute account of the U.S. drone strikes that killed Iranian military commander Qassem Soleimani in remarks to a Republican fund-raising dinner on Friday night, according to audio obtained by CNN.
With his typical dramatic flourish, Trump recounted the scene as he monitored the strikes from the White House Situation Room when Soleimani was killed.
The U.S. Navy will name its fourth Ford-class aircraft carrier after Doris Miller, an iconic World War II sailor recognized for his heroism during the Pearl Harbor attack, according to reports in The Honolulu Star-Advertiser and U.S. Naval Institute News.
Acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly is expected to announce the naming of CVN-81 during a ceremony on Monday in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, according to USNI. Two of Miller's nieces are expected to be there, according to the Star-Advertiser.
Two immigrants, a pastor and an Army sergeant have been convicted of conspiracy to commit marriage fraud as part of an illegal immigration scheme, according to federal prosecutors.
Rajesh Ramcharan, 45; Diann Ramcharan, 37; Sgt. Galima Murry, 31; and the Rev. Ken Harvell, 60, were found guilty Thursday after a nine-day jury trial, according to a news release from the U.S. attorney's office in Colorado.
The conspiracy involved obtaining immigration benefits for Rajesh Ramcharan, Diann Ramcharan, and one of their minor children, the release said. A married couple in 2007 came to the U.S. from Trinidad and Tobago on visitor visas. They overstayed the visas and settled in Colorado.
DUBAI (Reuters) - Iran said on Saturday it was sending to Ukraine the black boxes from a Ukrainian passenger plane that the Iranian military shot down this month, an accident that sparked unrest at home and added to pressure on Tehran from abroad.
Iran's Tasnim news agency also reported the authorities were prepared for experts from France, Canada and the United States to examine information from the data and voice recorders of the Ukraine International Airlines plane that came down on Jan. 8.
The plane disaster, in which all 176 aboard were killed, has added to international pressure on Iran as it grapples with a long running row with the United States over its nuclear program that briefly erupted into open conflict this month.