The deaths by suicide of three sailors serving aboard the aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush last week have led the ship’s commanding officer to urge his crew to come together and help shipmates in need.
The three unrelated deaths by suicide occurred while the ship has been in dry dock at its homeport of Norfolk, Virginia, undergoing scheduled long-term maintenance since earlier this year. None of the deaths occurred aboard the ship.
“Avengers, family, and friends, it is with a heavy heart that I can confirm the loss of three sailors last week in separate, unrelated incidents from apparent suicide,” Capt. Sean Bailey, the ship’s commanding officer, wrote in a post to the ship’s Facebook page. “My heart is broken.”
Bailey said these are the third, fourth and fifth crew member deaths by suicide in the last two years. The previous suicides occurred in November 2017 and July 2019.
“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,” he added. “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.”
The Navy has identified Chief Electronics Technician Nuclear James Shelton, Airman Ethan Stuart and Aviation Ordnanceman 1st Class Vincent Forline as the three sailors who died by suicide last week.
Shelton and Stuart both died by suicide on Sept. 19 in separate incidents and were found at off-base locations, Forline’s death had occurred on Sept. 14, Cmdr. Jennifer Cragg, a spokeswoman for Naval Air Force Atlantic, told ABC News in a statement.
“The sailors did not serve in the same departments, and there does not appear to be a connection between their deaths,” Cragg said. Crew members who are assigned to the carrier typically stay attached to the ship during their tour, but sometimes leave for training or other duty requirements.
“Chaplains, psychologists, counselors, and leadership are engaged and available on board at all times to provide support and counseling to those grieving,” he wrote. “I ask that you watch closely for stressors that anyone is experiencing when they face a significant life change.
“If you find yourself in need, call the Suicide Hotline number at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or Military OneSource at 1-800-342-9647. You can also text ‘home’ to the Crisis Hotline at 741741,” he wrote.
“Asking for help and supporting those who reach out is a sign of strength and resilience and never viewed negatively,” he added.
The Defense Department plans to release the latest version of an annual report that tracks the rate of suicides in the military, later this week. For the first time, that report will also track the deaths by suicide of any family members of those in military service.
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