The conversation with Captain Brent Gaut lasted two hours, according to four sailors who attended who spoke to CNN. In it, Gaut admitted what the sailors felt for months. The sailors said that the crew returned to the aircraft carrier very early, but that it was too late to return.
Another sailor told CNN Gaut who spoke through the ship’s loudspeaker system, known as 1MC or 1 Main Circuit, about two months ago and said the ship, which had been undergoing major maintenance, was not ready for sailors to move aboard when the operation began in the past. the summer. But he said, “There is no turning back now. We cannot reverse course.”
CNN has reached out to the Navy for comment on Gaut’s comments.
He drew national attention to the situation on the aircraft carrier when three sailors committed suicide in one week last month. But a dozen current and former George Washington crew members who spoke to CNN painted a disturbing picture of a ship with myriad problems, including what many said were terrible accommodation standards on the ship that was effectively a construction site, and concerns about the quality of the ship. Food and the feeling that driving does not address problems and dismiss complaints.
But they weren’t the only deaths on the carrier as it remained moored at the Newport News shipyard. The nuclear-powered aircraft carrier has been undergoing midlife refueling and overhaul since the summer of 2017. The Navy said the operation, which was initially expected to last four years, has been delayed several times until at least March 2023.
The sailors who agreed to speak with CNN all said the ship was uninhabitable. Sailors began moving on the carrier about a year ago, after the ship had already been in the process of refueling and overhauling for four years and was supposed to be ready to accommodate parts of the crew. Even after years of work to prepare the carrier for its next deployment, the ship remained a building area around the clock. Often, the challenges of life aboard the ship have hit the youngest of the young sailors.
“I was prepared for a tough situation, but I had no idea it was going to be in the yards,” one of the sailors currently assigned to George Washington told CNN. Most sailors spoke on the condition of anonymity, fearing the consequences of speaking publicly to their Navy career or those of their friends.
In the past 12 months, the crew of the USS George Washington aircraft carrier has suffered seven deaths, including at least four who committed suicide, the Navy said. Xavier Sandor, who worked in security on the ship, according to those who knew him, committed suicide on April 15, the third suicide in one week among the crew.
“How do you sleep on an aircraft carrier that jacks up and smokes and smells during the day?” asked John Sandor, asking for an explanation. “He slept in his car. No sailor should live on that ship in these conditions.”
On the ship, it was almost impossible to find a quiet place to sleep, the sailors said, and the ship suffered from constant blackouts and a lack of hot water. They said the docks often lacked ventilation, and the ship’s massive metal hull inflated the temperature outside to become unbearable.
“I’d wake up in the middle of the night freezing my ass,” another sailor told CNN. “I lived in my car in the winter, and it still felt better than my mooring.” The sailor, who said he was 19 years old at the time, was shocked by the conditions on the ship, far from his expectations of what life in the Navy would be like. He lived in his car on and off for about 3 weeks, he says, until he became more accustomed to the confines of the carrier.
“This is the very bottom part,” he told CNN, speaking of the situation on the USS George Washington.
Crew moving from ship
Earlier this week, the ship’s captain announced that about half of the more than 400 crew members living aboard the carrier will move to temporary accommodations off the ship. Others who want to do the same will also be given the opportunity. The sailors who spoke with CNN agreed that this was the right thing to do.
Asked if the Navy was aware that crew members slept in their cars rather than on the ship, a U.S. Naval Air Force spokesperson told Atlantic that each sailor was “provided with accommodations,” and that the Navy would consider whether housing was a factor in suicide.
“Navy Command and Congress have met extensively with current leadership aboard the USS George Washington, and feel confident that the leadership team is working hard — both in and out of the lifeline — to care for the crew,” Commander Robert Myers said in a statement. to CNN. “Our current focus is on ensuring that our seafarers are provided with a safe and healthy environment on board GW, and that the ship’s command team has the resources to do so.”
One sailor shared CNN messages from the ship’s digital suggestion box, where people can report problems or share ideas. Many of the posts are rated as “quality of life,” and focus on issues such as parking in a remote location, low morale or food. But hardly anything changed, said the sailors.
“Complaints won’t do anything,” said a fourth sailor in charge of the ship. “You just have to suffer in silence.”
Several sailors told CNN that even a full meal is sometimes hard to come by.
Said the fourth sailor who often worked security shifts late at night.
“Prisoners got better food than we got in the army,” said a sailor who had recently moved from the USS George Washington. The carrier was her first assignment, and she says she developed a drinking problem for some time due to the living conditions.
“This is the craziest environment I’ve ever encountered,” she said.
Two weeks ago, Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy Russell Smith, the service’s most senior enlisted sailor, visited George Washington and spoke to the crew. In a statement issued afterward, he said his visit to the ship was an “open and honest dialogue” as he wanted “to learn about the difficulties our seafarers face” and “understand their concerns.”
But when he told the sailors that they should have “reasonable expectations” and that they “don’t sleep in a pit like a Marine does,” some of the crew were dumbfounded. The fourth sailor of the ship called it “funny insulting talk.”
The second sailor said, “This is not a reason that we live the way we live.” “Things can be done to fix what we are going through.”
Another former sailor assigned to George Washington described the situation on the ship as “unacceptable,” particularly given the resources available to the military to address living conditions and quality of life.
“This is not Afghanistan where you would expect those conditions,” he said. “This is Newport News, Virginia.”
Commander Myers said the Navy is “confident that our thorough investigation and assessment of the leadership climate and various quality of life issues will identify areas for future improvements as well as make recommendations for immediate action.”
The ship also added more mental health resources, such as a special intervention team and an additional psychiatrist, Commander of the US Naval Air Force Atlantic Admiral John Mayer said. Crew members aboard the USS George Washington will also have access to remote mental health resources as well as on-board training for junior sailors.
An increase in mental health resources is long overdue, according to sailors who spoke to CNN. Although the ship had a clinical psychologist, the sailors said they would have to wait months for an appointment.
When Jacob Grilla, who spent most of his time in the Navy assigned to George Washington, found out he was assigned to the carrier, which was just a short drive from his family in Richmond, Virginia, he said on Facebook that he was “so freaking happy.” But it didn’t take long for his casual weekend trips home to become a chance to escape the ship.
Grella said he tried to schedule a psychiatrist visit to the ship during his final year on the ship.
When he did, he was met with a “six-month waiting period,” at which point “I would almost be out of the Navy.”
Despite his frustration, Grella and several other sailors who spoke with CNN believed that a profound change in the ship’s culture and climate could be achieved.
“I think it is certainly possible,” he said, “but for that to happen, I think at this point everyone has to be held accountable. You have to start looking at what is causing the setbacks and who is causing this negative treatment and mindset on these poor kids.”