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Navy relents, moves Sailors off the USS GW following suicides

The captain of the USS George Washington said last week he would temporarily allow the crew to live off the aircraft carrier, just as the Navy acknowledged that more Sailors assigned to the ship have committed suicide over the past year.

Sailors have been complaining for weeks that the terrible living conditions in and around the ship have taken a toll on them over the four years they have been in drydock. In late April, as suspicion mounted that these conditions may have contributed to a series of suicides among the crew, Master Chief Petty Officer Russell Smith told Sailors that the Navy should have set expectations better for dry dock service, but said there was little choice but to stay on the job.

A week later, the Navy changed its position. Capt. Brent Gaut said a few hundred Sailors assigned to the ship would now live at a Navy Gateway Inn and Suites, and that the Navy would try to find another 50 beds per week. A little more than 400 Sailors are now living on board, and according to, the goal is to get “all Sailors who wish to move off-ship” a new place to live.

The shift came as the Navy continues to investigate the deaths of crewmembers linked to the USS George Washington. Last week, the Navy said at least four Sailors died by their own hand, but CBS News reported that the Navy now believes at least seven Sailors committed suicide.

Gaut said Sailors charged with keeping watch over the ship would still have to sleep on board, and added that once the ship is four months away from seeing active duty again, the off-ship living arrangement would end.

It’s not clear exactly when that will be, and Gaut didn’t provide a timeline. But a spokesman for Newport News Shipbuilding said work is “nearing completion,” and work on the USS George Washington is expected to be finished sometime this year.

When Smith addressed Sailors in late April, he said they need to have a stake in the restoration of Navy ships.

“When someone walks by you in Starbucks and you’re in uniform and says, ‘Thank you for your service,’ this is one of the things they’re thanking you for,” Smith said.

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