Home » Military Personnel » U.S., U.K. Sailors Died Days After Death of Former 5th Fleet CO Stearney


U.S., U.K. Sailors Died Days After Death of Former 5th Fleet CO Stearney

Riverine sailors underway in 5th Fleet in 2018. US Navy Photo

A U.S. and U.K. sailor assigned to U.S. 5th Fleet died suddenly in the days after the Dec. 1 apparent suicide of Vice Adm. Scott Stearney, USNI News has learned.

While investigations are underway into all three of the deaths, several defense officials have told USNI News the circumstances of all three deaths point to suicide.

The closeness of the deaths have raised defense officials’ concerns that Stearney’s high-profile status may have given tacit permission to the other two sailors to end their own lives, two officials told USNI News.

The U.S. sailor was assigned to Coastal Riverine Squadron 3 and “died of a non-combat related injury while temporarily stationed in Dubai,” on Dec. 9, according to a statement from U.S. 5th Fleet provided to USNI News.
“No foul play is suspected.” The Navy did not identify the sailor.

On Dec. 10, Royal Navy Lt. Steven Clark, who served with the U.K. Maritime Component Command (UKMCC) based in Bahrain, also died suddenly, Royal Navy spokesperson Lt. Charlotte Wood told USNI News.

“An investigation is underway, therefore it would be inappropriate to comment further,” Wood wrote. “Our thoughts and sympathies are with his family and friends at this difficult time.”

A Thursday message left with an NCIS spokesperson on the status of the investigation into Stearney’s and the riverine sailor’s deaths was not immediately returned.

Roger Brooks, a senior programs specialist for the Wounded Warriors Project’s mental health programs, told USNI News on Thursday that there wasn’t enough information to determine if there were direct links between Stearney’s death and the other two sailors. However, high-profile suicides do have an effect on others in distress.

“If someone who is high-visibility violates those norms and goes through – granted the investigation is ongoing – with suicide, could that itself be the trigger for other folks? Absolutely,” Brooks said.
“Especially if it’s someone who is perceived to have it all together. As an officer at that height, the conceptual piece is, ‘well you can’t rise to that rank unless you have it all together.’”

While details of Stearney’s death have not been made public, his cause of death is widely known across the service.

The deaths come as the Navy has revamped its own suicide prevention programs as the service has seen a recent increase in sailors taking their own lives.

In the Navy, between 2012 and 2016, the suicide rate of active duty sailors tracked below the DoD average rate and mostly followed the DoD’s year-to-year trend, according to statistics collected by the Defense Suicide Prevention Office, which started publishing suicide data in 2012. In 2016, the Navy’s active duty suicide rate was 15.9 per 100,000 sailors, compared to a DoD active duty rate of 21.1 per 100,000 active duty service members

However, in 2017, the Navy’s active duty suicide rate increased to 21.4 per 100,000 sailors, putting the Navy’s rate at a comparable level to the rates reported by other services – Army 24.9, Air Force 20.3, Marine Corps 24, according to USNI News calculations using the DoD suicide rate calculation formula.

“The Navy’s suicide rate has fluctuated over the years, with no single cause for the fluctuations. Nor is there a single theory or study to address fluctuation in any specific year or time frame,” Capt. Tara Smith, a subject matter expert assigned to Navy’s Suicide Prevention Branch (OPNAV N171), told USNI News in December.

DoD has released suicide data through the first six months of 2018, and the Navy’s total for the first half of the year suggests the services is on track to report a similar number of suicides as was the case in 2017, which marked a six-year high. Navy officials have not identified a reason for the increase in suicides, though they recognized the trend and completely revamped the Navy’s suicide policy releasing OPNAV Instruction 1720.4B in September.

The new policy also comes as Navy leadership has issued guidance to senior officials to do more to maintain a work-life balance and do more to lower stress.

“We pay for 30 days of leave for every service member. On average, the U.S. Navy takes 11 and half days of leave each year,” Chief of Naval Personnel Vice Adm. Robert Burke said in November. “We have to start looking at the long-view here.”

Suicide Prevention Resources

The Navy Suicide Prevention Handbook is a guide designed to be a reference for policy requirements, program guidance, and educational tools for commands. The handbook is organized to support fundamental command Suicide Prevention Program efforts in Training, Intervention, Response, and Reporting.

The 1 Small ACT Toolkit helps sailors foster a command climate that supports psychological health. The toolkit includes suggestions for assisting sailors in staying mission ready, recognizing warning signs of increased suicide risk in oneself or others, and taking action to promote safety.

The Lifelink Monthly Newsletter provides recommendations for sailors and families, including how to help survivors of suicide loss and to practice self-care.

The Navy Operational Stress Control Blog “NavStress” provides sailors with content promoting stress navigation and suicide prevention:

NavStress social media:

Facebook: www.facebook.com/navstress

Twitter: www.twitter.com/navstress

Flickr: www.flickr.com/photos/navstress

  • CharleyA

    Mental health issues affect everyone in all communities and workforces – not sure what is being implied here, or what could have been done differently.

    • tom dolan

      I’m not sure anyone is suggesting anything could have been done differently but simply observing that a high profile suicide might have contributed other lower ranked equally disturbed individuals to emulate their commander. Actions have consequences

  • Marauder 2048

    Have they ever looked at a link between go/no-go pills and increased suicidal ideation?

  • Secundius

    For some reason that unexpected Suicide just didn’t sound right…

  • ConcernedinAlaska

    We have the same phenomenon here in bush Alaska where the youth have few activities to entertain them and the economy doesn’t provide jobs. Drug use and alcoholism are rampant, even huffing gasoline. When one of these kids commits suicide there is often a spike of copy-cat suicides.

  • CAPT ALOHA

    When I was “in the service” of Uncle and the USA … “they” wouldn’t even let us use Actifed w/out going to General Quarters …

    But now … ???

    • Secundius

      When was that? Smith, Kline and French Laboratories of Philadelphia first started issuing “5mg’s of Benzedrine Sulfate” to the US Navy in 1929. By 1942, S-K-F had a ~$870-K contract to supply the US Navy with ~72-Million Tablets and the US Army a similar contract…

      • CAPT ALOHA

        ’60s, ’70s … I guess you weren’t on flight skins then??

        But to allay your apparent shock & awe .. I didn’t say you couldn’t use it — I said “they” went to “GQ” when you did.

        If you used Actifed or any similar derivative — and it was only authorized by a flight surgeon — you were med-down. I used ’em to get some GOOD sleep on long TransPacs …

        • Secundius

          NVG Gear (Green Light) will cause wearer to lose Depth Perception over Extended Periods of Time. And Not Everyone is able to work in a “Red Light” Environment. And “Blue Light” will induce Sleep ~3 times faster than Green Light…

  • Chesapeakeguy

    “….may have given tacit permission to the other two sailors to end their own lives..”

    What? Say WHAT? I’ll wager that anyone who is in such turmoil that they are contemplating suicide is not looking for anything that can be classified as ‘permission’ in any way to carry it out. That is IF these are indeed actual suicides.

    Regardless, these are all sad and tragic circumstances. I hope the final, actual determinations are arrived at, and measures implemented that might save some potential victims from themselves in the future..

    May they all RIP, and God Bless them…

    • Jolita Joy Pattison

      As someone who has fought the battle for my sanity and to not commit suicide, when I’m low and people are talking about suicide, it can start to feel like a sign or a reasonable choice. If you’re already fighting those thoughts, you do everything you can to keep your mind on other things. But If it’s then everywhere and everyone’s discussing it or how “unusual” it is of that person to do something like suicide, it may feel like they don’t even know how you’re suffering so how could they know? you cannot escape the topic in the safe ways or places that you used too.

      • Chesapeakeguy

        I am happy that you are still among us. Please keep fighting the good fight and maintain that. I say God Bless you as well..

  • Florin

    So the commander of the 5th fleet commits suicide and within days a UK and US Navy sailor also do it?So if the suicide rate in the Navy is of about 20 per 100000 give or take that means around 60-65 suicides in any given year.One once every 5-6 days should take place somewhere.Hm something just seems interesting about this case.It could just be that it happened but still something is off.Its also weird that we have a UK seaman.

  • Veronica Cartier

    Why the deaths of the three sailors on the days after the late Vice Adm. Scott Stearney’s death just being published recently not on about the same time? The tragedies (if) suicidal really happened and “fluctuated” on US fleets, it is time to consider and adopt “fields staff vacation benefit”. This type of the benefit offered by Oil companies for the staff and workers who worked in the field. The field’s staff entitled to take a break every three months. This is just a sample to consider, another suggestion that the Psychologist of the fleet should have people on board mental health charts’ periodically, and notice if any personnel is mentally suffering. I worked for Oil Company in Industrial Department (as field’s staff in the past) and trained in Society of Human Resources Management (SHRM). I highly tolerated the pressure working in the field, I could imagine the similar and even perhaps worse depend on the security environment at sea. I really suggest that the Naval Human Resources should look into the naval Working condition and Employee’s Benefit including recreations, game sports, short vacations. It is with the heart broken to learn this tragedies, however investigations should confirmed if suicidal is the fact in the U.S. fleet or something else.
    I wish all of you on board healthy, safety and Happy throughout 2019.
    Best,
    Veronica H Cartier

  • imongo

    Looking for scapegoats or causes never quite works out. It comes down to the individual and that voice telling them to commit self harm. We can parse it a million ways, and will arrive at the same conclusions every time.

  • pismopal

    This problem seems to be generational. No suicide on my carrier between 1958-1962 and we only had mail..no internet or Cel phones.