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Sailor who shot himself on submarine previously removed from gun list

July 28, 2018

A sailor who intentionally shot himself with a government-issued rifle aboard a Groton-based attack submarine on Jan. 12 at one point temporarily had been removed from the list of those allowed to carry a gun as part of watchstanding duties.

These details were included in an investigative report The Day received from the Navy through a Freedom of Information Act request.

The determination of the so-called line of duty investigation was that the sailor’s injuries were sustained in the line of duty and not as a result of misconduct. This type of investigation is required when a sailor sustains a disease or injury that might result in permanent disability, results in the physical inability to perform his or her job for more than 24 hours, or death. The determination of the investigation can impact a sailor’s pay, contract length and benefits.

The Navy has said the sailor intentionally shot himself but it has not explicitly called the incident an attempted suicide. Suicide attempts are considered by the Navy to be “acts committed in the line of duty/not due to the member’s own misconduct in light of the fact that the member demonstrated a lack of mental responsibility, and is therefore not responsible for his or her actions.”

On Jan. 12, the sailor, a petty officer aboard the USS North Dakota, was assigned as “a M16 and MK-43 Gunner” from 1:30 to 9:30 p.m., according to the investigation. He was issued an unloaded M16 rifle and ammunition.

So-called small arms, like the M16 rifle issued to the sailor, are on board submarines as part of the ship’s armament for self-defense against attack. Weapons are taken out of the small arms lockers only for inventory, training, cleaning or to issue to watchstanders for duty. The Navy has said the sailor was part of the topside watch, who are armed as part of their duties to control access below-decks, during a brief stop for personnel.

Two levels of personnel are designated by a submarine’s commanding officer to have access to the small arms on board. A set of personnel are responsible for maintaining, training and issuing the small arms, and these personnel have the keys to the locker where the weapons are kept. Another group of personnel are issued the weapons as part of their watchstanding duties but do not have keys to the locker. They have to meet various qualifications and training to do that job.

About 4:29 p.m. on Jan. 12, the sailor on the North Dakota shot himself in the right shoulder. He was found lying on his back in the torpedo room. The incident prompted a complex, 7-hour rescue effort by the sailor’s shipmates, on-shore emergency responders and others.

The investigation, which is redacted heavily for privacy reasons, shows the sailor was qualified to possess a weapon and went through the necessary training and qualifications. It also shows there was an incident that resulted in the sailor being temporarily removed from the gun list.

On Aug. 7, 2017, he was standing watch at the gate on the lower level of the Naval Submarine Base with access to the pier area where the submarines are docked.

“After making remarks about (redacted) while stationed as an armed watchstander at the pier gate and a phone call from his mother explaining concerns she had,” he was taken off duty and removed from the gun list, the investigation says. “The next day he went to (redacted), and returned for a follow up one week later.”

After the follow-up, the sailor was determined to be fit for full duty and not a danger to himself or others, according to the investigation. Later that week, several officers spoke with the commanding officer of the North Dakota about adding him back to the qualified list for armed watches. The commanding officer, after speaking with the weapons officer and the sailor, agreed. On Aug. 18, the sailor was added back to the armed watchstander list and resumed his normal duties.

Since then, the sailor “continued to stand a professional watch and was stationed with a weapon dozens of times with no issue,” the investigation says.

A sailor can be removed from the list of those allowed to carry a small arm for a number of reasons, such as training qualification expiration, or punitive or precautionary measures. A sailor’s commanding officer, based on recommendations from the submarine’s weapons officer and/or medical officer, determines whether a sailor can carry a weapon again.

The sailor’s current status is redacted from the investigation. He was released from the hospital on Jan. 23 and was expected to make a full recovery.

j.bergman@theday.com

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