3 sailors assigned to the USS George H.W. Bush died by suicide last week

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Pilots assigned to the USS George H. W. Bush walk across the flight deck.

(U.S. Navy/Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Tony Curtis)

Three sailors assigned to the USS George H. W. Bush have died by suicide in the last week, the Navy announced today.


Chief Electronics Technician Nuclear James Shelton and Airman Ethan Stuart were found deceased in separate incidents at off-base locations on Sept. 19, Cmdr. Jennifer Cragg, a spokeswoman with Norfolk Naval Station, told Task & Purpose.

The two deaths came just five days after Aviation Ordnanceman First Class Vincent Forline, another sailor assigned to the USS George H. W. Bush, died by suicide.

"Every death of a Sailor is devastating and affects our entire Navy Family," Cragg said. "Our thoughts and condolences are with the family, friends, and shipmates of the Sailors."

A Facebook post on Monday evening from Capt. Sean Bailey, commanding officer of the USS George H. W. Bush, confirmed that the recent deaths mark the "third, fourth, and fifth crew member suicides in the last two years."

None of the deaths occurred aboard the aircraft carrier, which is dry-docked in Norfolk, Cragg told Task & Purpose.

"Now is the time to come together as a crew and as a family to grieve, to support each other, and to care for those in need," reads Bailey's message. The post goes on to note that counseling and support systems are "available on board at all times to provide support and counseling to those grieving," and encourages sailors to "watch closely for stressors that anyone is experiencing when they face a significant life change such as: Relationship problems; Personal or professional loss; Recent career transitions; Financial difficulties; Disciplinary/legal issues."

The recent suicides gained widespread attention on social media after they were addressed on Decelerate Your Life, a popular Facebook group geared toward current and former sailors.

According to the group's administrator, who spoke with Task & Purpose under the condition of anonymity, the Facebook page has received messages from 30 to 40 sailors assigned to the Bush, who allege that leadership has tried to downplay the recent suicides, and that there may be a "toxic command climate" aboard the carrier, pointing to issues with long hours, undue stress, and a lack of personal time while the ship is dry docked.

"You're never at home, you don't get to see your family, you don't get to see your kids," said the page administrator, who claimed six years of Navy service with nearly five years aboard the Bush. "That environment is very stressful. Everyone is in and out of the ship all the time, so you might not have the resources available to you."

The Navy has pushed back on the claims about the command environment, with Cragg telling Task & Purpose that the "USS George H. W. Bush leadership is committed to every sailor assigned to the ship to join together as a team to improve the quality of their people and themselves."

However, the page administrator for Decelerate Your Life told Task & Purpose that his account was temporarily blocked from the Bush's official Facebook page after commenting there about the recent suicides. The Navy declined to provide a comment on why the account was blocked.

According to USNI News, "as of Sep. 5, the Navy reported that 46 active duty service members had taken their lives in 2019."

In 2018, the Navy recorded 68 suicides among active duty personnel, Navy Times reported.

If you’re thinking about suicide, are worried about a friend or loved one, or would like emotional support, the Lifeline network is available 24/7 across the United States. Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (800-273-8255) to reach a trained counselor. Use that same number and press "1" to reach the Veterans Crisis Line.


Photo illustration by Paul Szoldra

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