Defense Secretary Mark Esper visited the USS Gerald R. Ford during a visit to Newport News Shipbuilding and Naval Station Norfolk, where he addressed the problem of military suicide. (DVIDS/Seaman Zachary Melvin)

The military has the "means and resources" to stem the tide of suicide in its ranks, but continues to struggle in search of answers, Defense Secretary Mark Esper said Wednesday during a visit to Naval Station Norfolk.

Three sailors assigned to the Norfolk-based USS George H.W. Bush died of apparent suicide within days of each other in the past two weeks. The Navy said the suicides were not related, but it marked the third, fourth, and fifth crew member suicides in the past two years, said Capt. Sean Bailey, the ship's commander, who described himself as heartbroken.

Esper said he shares in the sailors' grief.

"You mourn for the families and for their shipmates," Esper said. "I wish I could tell you we have an answer to prevent future further suicides in the armed services. We don't."

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Editor's Note: This article by Gina Harkins and Patricia Kime originally appeared on Military.com, a leading source of news for the military and veteran community.

Three sailors assigned to the same ship died in apparent suicides in the last week, leaving some asking what more leaders can do to support troops as the military grapples with rising rates of self-inflicted deaths.

Chief Electronics Technician Nuclear James Shelton and Airman Ethan Stuart died of apparent suicides on Sept. 19 in separate off-base incidents, said Cmdr. Jennifer Cragg, with Naval Air Force Atlantic. Both were assigned to the aircraft carrier George H.W. Bush, which is undergoing maintenance in Virginia.

Aviation Ordnanceman 1st Class Vincent Forline, who was also assigned to the Bush, was found dead in an apparent suicide five days prior.

"My heart is broken," Capt. Sean Bailey, the Bush's commanding officer, said in a Facebook post Monday. "... We need All Hands to engage by bringing forward your suggestions and ideas for how we can work together to prevent another suicide. I want to reiterate that there is never any stigma or repercussion from seeking help."

Shelton, Stuart and Forline were the third, fourth and fifth Bush crew members to die by suicide in the last two years. Navy officials say there's no apparent connection between the three. The sailors did not serve in the same departments, Cragg said.

But others argue there is a connection: their command.

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Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein has ordered all units to take a day before Sept. 15 to focus on preventing airmen from taking their own lives.

"Suicide is an adversary that is killing more of our airmen than any enemy on the planet," Goldfein write in a July 31 memo to commanders, which Task & Purpose obtained. "You and I have sworn to 'defend against all enemies, foreign and domestic.' Suicide attacks sometimes with and without warning. Make this tactical pause matter. Make it yours and make it personal."

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(Getty Images/Spencer Grant)

(Reuters Health) - Military service members who are at risk for suicide may be less likely to attempt to harm themselves when they receive supportive text messages, a U.S. study suggests.

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Photo via Josh Geartz

Former Army military police Sgt. Josh Geartz is riding 422 miles to raise awareness about the 20 veterans who take their own lives every day, according to the latest Department of Veterans Affairs data. He chose 422 miles deliberately to represent the formerly held figure, which suggested that 22 veterans a day are lost to suicide.

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U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Orlando Perez

A report by the Pentagon’s Defense Suicide Prevention Office found that in the third quarter of 2015, the military saw an increase in suicides among active and reserve components, compared to the same period last year.

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