Three junior enlisted sailors assigned to aircraft carrier USS George Washington (CVN-73) died earlier this month in three separate apparent suicides within a week of each other, Navy officials have told USNI News.
The most recent, Master-at-Arms Seaman Recruit Xavier Hunter Mitchell-Sandor, was found aboard the carrier on April 15 and was pronounced dead later that day in a local hospital, the Navy said in a statement on Thursday.
Mitchell-Sandor “was treated by the medical team on board before being transported to Riverside Regional Medical Center in Newport News where the Service member passed away,” the Navy said in a statement.
He had enlisted in the Navy in August and reported to the carrier following training in San Antonio after basic training in Great Lakes.
A Navy official told USNI News that the death was an apparent suicide.
Retail Services Specialist 3rd Class Mika’il Sharp died on April 9 and Interior Communications Electrician 3rd Class Natasha Huffman died on April 10. Both deaths were suicides, according to information from the local medical examiner provided to USNI News.
Sharp enlisted on June 10, 2020 and reported to George Washington on Oct. 3, 2020. The ship was his first assignment.
Huffman, of Minnesota, enlisted on July 11, 2018, and reported to George Washington n May 21, 2019. George Washington was her first assignment, as well.
The suicides of Mitchell-Sandor, Sharp, Huffman and an unidentifed fourth sailor who died by suicide in December are among seven sailors assigned to George Washington who have died in the last year, USNI News has learned.
“We can confirm seven total deaths of service members assigned to USS George Washington over the past 12 months — 4 in 2021, and 3 in 2022. The circumstances surrounding these incidents vary and it is premature to make assumptions, as some incidents remain under investigation,” Naval Air Force Atlantic spokesman Lt. Cmdr. Robert Myers said in a statement.
A Navy official told USNI News of the three other sailors assigned to the ship who died: one death was undetermined, one was “health-related” and one was from, “post-COVID complications.”
The sailor who died from post-COVID-19 complications is not included in the list of 17 sailors who the service has said died from circumstances related to getting the virus since the start of the pandemic in 2020.
The series of suicides has prompted the commander of U.S. Fleet Forces to begin an investigation, U.S. Fleet Forces in a statement.
Adm. Daryl Caudle, “has directed Rear Adm. John Meier, commander, Naval Air Force Atlantic, to investigate and assess the reported deaths of sailors assigned to the USS George Washington (CVN-73), to include correlations, command climate and culture issues, and the systemic relationships between them,” reads a statement provided to USNI News on Thursday.
George Washington is berthed at Newport News Shipbuilding, Va., in the final months of its five-year-long refueling and complex overhaul (RCOH) that occurs at the midlife of an aircraft carrier. RCOH’s take carriers down to the bulkheads and the repair period is designed to have the carrier sail for 25 more years.
The RCOH of “USS George Washington (CVN-73), which began in 2017, is nearing completion. COVID-19 impacts and unplanned growth work resulted in delays to the schedule. The unplanned growth was largely discovered as work teams inspected systems and equipment throughout the ship that cannot be inspected prior to the maintenance period. RCOH resources were increased and schedule reduction initiatives were implemented,” HII spokesman Danny Hernandez told USNI News in a statement.
“Out of respect for our customer and to protect the privacy of military families, Newport News Shipbuilding does not discuss the death of our U.S. Navy Shipbuilding teammates with the exception of a workplace accident.”
Life for sailors aboard ships in maintenance can be unpleasant with junior sailors living aboard decades-old berthing barges or aboard the ship that is actively being repaired.
In 2019, three sailors assigned to USS George H.W. Bush (CVN-77) committed suicide while the carrier was in a long-term maintenance availability in the same week. They were three of five sailors assigned to the carrier who died from suicide.
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.