Seven Navy sailors assigned to the USS George Washington have died by suicide during the time the aircraft carrier has been undergoing a yearslong overhaul in Newport News, Virginia.
The Navy acknowledged Thursday that in addition to the four suicides in the past year, three more sailors assigned to the carrier died by suicide in 2019 and 2020.
The three suicides from 2019 and 2020 occurred while the USS George Washington was under the command of Capt. Kenneth Strong. According to the Navy, Strong left the ship three months ahead of schedule because of “individual incidents of poor judgment and leadership acumen.”
Despite his early departure, Strong was awarded a Legion of Merit for, among other things, winning a score of 98% on the 2019 Safety and Occupational Health Management Evaluation.
The living and working conditions on the carrier present challenges for the sailors. While it’s in the shipyard, the George Washington is essentially a construction zone, where it can be cramped, hot and loud for the crew on board.
After reports that three sailors had died by suicide in a single week in April, the Navy opened an investigation last week into their deaths. It’s examining whether living conditions on the carrier played a role in the suicides and whether the ship’s commanders did everything they could to make the conditions as acceptable as possible.
The USS George Washington’s overhaul is behind schedule — the COVID-19 pandemic and the need for unexpected repairs have kept the carrier in the shipyard for nearly a year longer than expected.
The carrier has been docked at Newport News Shipbuilding for a major overhaul since 2017.