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Tuesday, May 24, 2022

USS George Washington sailors detail difficult working conditions after suicide

As of her one-year anniversary with the Navy last May, Hannah Chrysostomo swallowed 196 painkillers. His limbs were closed. Over the course of several visits, his brain swelled and he stopped breathing.

She was on life support for eight days, during which doctors warned her family that she would never be able to have normal brain function. When Chrysostomo awoke, he immediately wondered why he was still alive. Her thoughts became more depressing over the course of the next few weeks in the hospital and then in the Navy psychiatric ward.

“If they put me in the Navy, and they put me back in the same position, I’m going to kill myself,” she recalled thinking, “and I’m going to succeed next time.”

That spring, Chrysostomo, a fellow handler of an aviation boatswain aboard the aircraft carrier USS George Washington, was transferred to night-shift repair duties. Amid the chaos on the ship during an extensive overhaul, Crisostomo said she was constantly reprimanded for things beyond her control.

Hannah Chrysostomo holding her navy portrait.Alex Welsh for NBC News

At that time, she was battling with some family issues. She also said that bipolar disorder that went undiagnosed had played a role in her decision making. But Chrysostomo, now 20, said 95 percent of the reason he tried to kill himself was work-related.

“Command pushes you to that point,” she said, adding that she had tried to get help, but was instead turned down. And unlike a traditional corporate employee, she couldn’t quit simply because she signed a five-year contract.

“There’s no point in putting in and opting out with your two weeks’ notice,” Chrysostomo said.

Chrysostomo and several other George Washington sailors stated that their struggles were directly related to a culture where asking for help does not meet the necessary resources as well as the almost uninhabited living conditions on the ship, including constant building noises that make sleep impossible. Makes up and shortage of hot water and electricity.

Military officials said since Chrysostomo’s attempt, at least five of his shipyards aboard George Washington have been killed by suicide, three of whom died within a week this April. The latest group of suicides is being investigated by the Navy and has sparked concern from the Pentagon and Representative Elaine Luria, D-VA, who served in the Navy for two decades.

On April 15, Master-at-Arms Seaman Recruit Xavier Hunter Sander died by suicide in George Washington, according to the Office of the Navy and State Chief Medical Examiner. His family told that he had been working on the warship for about three months.

Xavier Hunter Sandor.
Xavier Hunter Sandor.Courtesy John Sandor

His death came five days after Natasha Huffman, an internal communications electrician, committed suicide, officials said.

A day earlier, Retail Services Specialist Third Class Michaela Rayson Sharp also died of suicide off-base in Portsmouth, her mother Natalie Jefferson said.

“Three people decide not to kill themselves for nothing,” said Chrysostomo, who left the Navy in October 2021, on honorable leave with a medical condition after a suicide attempt.

In a statement, the Navy said, in part, it was a “resilient force” but “not immune to the challenges that affect the nation we serve.”

“We are committed to ensuring that our carriers are equipped with optimal levels of manned, trained and embedded mental health providers,” said Rear Admiral John F. Meier, Commander of Naval Air Force Atlantic.

Michael Rayson Sharp.
Michael Rayson Sharp.us Navy

Poor working conditions, high stress, long hours

Many sailors said the poor working conditions were exacerbated by the fact that since 2017, the USS George Washington, one of the world’s largest warships, has been docked at the Newport News Shipyard in Virginia, where it is a multi-engined warship. Undergoing a year-long overhaul. Such an overhaul is performed once during a carrier’s 50-year service life, the Navy said, and includes significant repairs and upgrades, and the refueling of the ship’s two nuclear reactors.

While about 2,700 sailors go home after their shifts, hundreds who live out of state or do not have off-site housing live in George Washington, where they endure nearly uninhabitable conditions, according to one sailor, which still works. warship and asked to remain anonymous for fear of reprisal.

The constant construction made it difficult for sailors to fall asleep after long shifts. So some sailors, including Javier Sandor, slept in their cars, according to Sandor’s companions and his father.

“They are living in an active construction site, and half the boat is not habitable at all,” said the sailor. “They don’t care that you’re trying to sleep.”

When he was not working the 12-hour night shift in George Washington, Sandor stayed in his car, where he kept a thick blanket and his clothes, according to his father, John Sandor.

During these overhauls, according to many sailors, most crew members are removed for cleaning and repair jobs rather than for enlisted jobs in the Navy. In his role, Chrysostomo was originally supposed to assist the plane directly on the ship. But because the ship was docked, he spent most of his workday painting and doing other handicrafts.

“We are glorifying the watchmen,” she said.

A second sailor, asked to remain anonymous for fear of reprisal, said he spent nearly two years sitting on a bucket with a fire extinguisher, welding the other sailors, instead of directing the plane at the carrier. The sailor, who had been redeployed from George Washington less than a year earlier due to an injury, said he felt depressed during his time on the battleship and had lost more than 80 pounds.

American aircraft carrier USS George Washington
USS George Washington during its mission in the eastern Mediterranean in 2017.USS George HW Bush via Getty Images

“It’s a lot of stress and pressure, especially for people who are straight out of boot camp,” he said. “It’s mentally scary to go through things like this.”

In a recent address to the George Washington crew, Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy Russell Smith, the service’s senior enlisted leader, told crew members that he was aware that their working conditions during the overhaul were “not pleasant”. Or was easier, and they admitted there was a suicide problem.

“Defeating suicide is like beating cancer,” he said, according to a transcript of the address released by the Navy on Monday. “There are many different reasons, many different reasons.”

Smith disagreed when one sailor said that the standard of living on the ship was “not necessarily equal.” He said the sailors got to go home most nights and “were not sleeping in Foxhole like a Marine would be doing.”

“I think we probably could have done better to manage your expectations of us coming here,” Smith said. “I listen to your concerns and you should always raise them, but you must do so with reasonable expectations.”

He said the overhaul should be completed in less than a year.

In a statement to NBC News, Lt. Commander. Navy spokesman Robert Myers said a “certain number” of sailors have to remain aboard the ship to operate essential equipment, maintain fire and flood watches, and keep the ship safe. Myers said the Navy has instructed onboard leaders to identify sailors who could benefit from morale and personal wellness programs.

Nautica Robinson, 23, who worked with Huffman at George Washington, agreed that overhaul periods affect workloads, increase stress and cause sailors to work longer and harder to make up for schedule delays beyond their control. reasons, as well as so that they cannot be deployed at sea. But she said the root of the problem is not the shipyard or the ship itself, but the “toxic leadership” on George Washington.

“They threw us back into the environment, like our suicide attempt didn’t happen,” Robinson said. “The things that pushed those sailors into the water didn’t exist.”

When Crisostomo first had suicidal thoughts about half a year into his term, he said he sought help from a senior. But Chrysostomo said he was told he would have to finish his work and seek help on his own time. Chrysostomo worked the night shift, so by the time he finished his duty, he said there was no one to ask.

“Being in the Navy is what I’ve always wanted,” said Chrysostomo, when she was 17. “I wanted to be a part of something big to help the country. I was robbed of that, and I didn’t deserve it.”

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