A decade after a sailor aboard the USS Gerald R. Ford took his own life, the aircraft carrier’s former commanding officer still asks himself if there was some signal he missed that might have warned him about the demons his shipmate was battling.
Now the commander of Naval Air Force Atlantic, Rear Adm. John Meier said losing a sailor to suicide is particularly gut-wrenching. The day after the sailor spoke with then-Captain Meier, he sent a good-bye text message to another friend, who immediately called the police.
“They couldn’t get to the sailor before he took his own life,” Adm. Meier said Tuesday during a briefing with defense reporters about a recent rash of suicides aboard the USS George Washington. The aircraft carrier is in Newport News, Va. while undergoing a “refueling complex overhaul,” a multi-year service project that includes refueling the ship’s nuclear reactors.
With his own experience, Admiral Meier said he knows what the captain and crew of the USS Gerald Ford are going through. “To lose three sailors in such a short time is devastating. We don’t take that lightly,” he said.
Based in Japan for several years, the USS George Washington is now dockside at the Newport News Shipyard. Most of the crew are able to drive home after their shift is over but about 400 mostly junior sailors remain aboard the ship.
The drydock period is expected to be completed next year, Navy officials said.
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Adm. Meier directed his second-in-command to lead a much broader investigation that would include taking a deep look inside the culture of the USS George Washington. Some sailors have complained about the noise level from the round-the-clock construction going on aboard the ship and the lack of local amenities outside the gate.
Most of the crew members aboard the George Washington commute to work to the dockyards where the USS George Washington is undergoing repairs. The Navy is now authorizing about 2,700 sailors to move off base until the maintenance work is close to being finished.
Some single sailors opted to remain aboard the ship rather than fight the 90-minute commute to the drydock in Newport News from their temporary base home in Norfolk.
“That rack is their little piece of home and privacy,” Adm. Meier said.