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By Kurt Williams
NORFOLK, Virginia (WTKR) — Help is available.
That was the message from top brass with the U.S. Navy on Monday. Admiral Daryl Caudle, commander of the U.S. Fleet Forces Command, urged sailors not to suffer in silence. He was joined by Fleet Master Chief John Perryman at a news conference.
Both were emphatic that there are resources available.
News 3 posted on social media over the weekend that we were covering this story and that there were many responses from people asking us to go to the real sailors to get the real story.
“I think it’s important to get perceptions from the deck plate sailors on the waterfront, and so I would not push back on you doing that at all,” Admiral Caudle said. “But I think it’s important for the sailors on the waterfront to know that the folks on my level, at the Fleet Master Chief level, care a lot about their welfare. And we care a lot about preventing suicides, and I want them to hear it from the top, to know some of the things we’re doing, that we are aware of the stresses they’re under, the challenges that they’re under.”
I also asked the admiral how he addresses the fear that seeking mental health is a career killer.
“Let’s face it, you know there’s a historical stigma trying to get help for something you’re under mentally that you’re dealing with, and we’re working very hard to lower that threshold, to lower that barrier, to make sure people know they can do that,” said Admiral Caudle. “I believe you have to have a consistent, caring, genuine approach to sailors and continue to build the confidence that there will be no reprisals for seeking mental health services.”
Master Chief Perryman acknowledged that other areas need to be addressed — like the workload.
“Throughout my time in the Navy, we’ve added a lot of requirements. We have to, as a Navy, really examine what our requirements are and get rid of the ones that are extraneous,” said Master Chief Perryman. “To reduce the friction on our sailors. We ask our commands to do a lot of things.”
On the issue of workload, News 3 read an email from a sailor, who wanted to remain anonymous, sharing what he says life is like aboard the USS George Washington:
“When you talk to junior sailors in deck dept about how much sleep they got. They will tell you maybe two or 3 hours of sleep, ask them if they got to eat at the least and they will maybe say something from the vending machine. Deck dept has been worked until 10 or 11 at night and they have to stand watch. There are a lot of issues like that on board this ship. Sailors being overworked, and it’s across the ship. We have sailors who have less than a year left of being in the Navy getting taken off the ship because of mental health issues. And the chain of command tells us to pick up their slack.”
After reading a portion of that email to Admiral Caudle, he responded, “It’s something I’d want to look into, because what you just described, that’s larger than an individual’s case. That’s troubling. And so, I’m concerned about what you just said, and it’s something I’ll definitely take action on. But the specific example of not having time to eat and not getting enough rest is contradictory to our policy. It’s something I’ll take action to look into, and I’ll just tell you and your listeners, this is something we take very seriously.”
Also at the news conference, a Marine colonel showcased an example of what the admiral wants to see across the board in the Navy: when you see something, say something, get involved.
This case involved Colonel David Hyman, chief of staff for the Marine Forces Command, who on his first day on the job, happened to spot a sailor going through a crisis.
“You just recognize something is off, and so I went over and was a little nosy, and that’s when I came upon our sailor who was on top of the chairs with a 550 cord and noose in his hand and ready to take his life,” said Colonel David Hyman. “And I immediately said, ‘Hey stud, do you need some help?’ And he said, ‘No, I need you to leave.’ And I said, ‘Not today. I’m right where I need to be.’ But I wasn’t leaving without getting to know him a little bit more and make sure that sailor got the care he needed.”
News 3’s Blaine Stewart did an exclusive sit-down interview with Col. Hyman, and you will see and be able to read about that in greater detail in the days to come.
An important reminder that the Navy was stressing at this news conference is if you or someone you know needs to talk to someone, call the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 988.
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