The US Navy Times confirms what we already suspected:
The Navy’s newest aircraft carrier has a messy problem. Since deploying in May, the Norfolk, Va.-based carrier George H.W. Bush has grappled with widespread toilet outages, at times rendering the entire ship without a single working head.
But it’s no laughing matter. Sailors tell of combing the ship for up to an hour to find a place to do their business, if they can find one at all. Others have resorted to urinating in showers or into the industrial sinks in their work stations. Some men are using bottles and emptying the contents over the giant ship’s side, while some women are holding it in for so long that they are developing health problems, according to sources on the ship.
The sailors blame the ship’s vacuum system. But the Navy is blaming sailors for flushing “inappropriate material” down the toilets.
The ship, commissioned in January 2009, is wrapping up a deployment in the Persian Gulf. Three sailors who spoke to Navy Times on the condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to talk to the media said the problem has been persistent at least since Bush began its first deployment in May. Throughout its deployment, there have been at least two times when all 423 commodes in the ship’s 130 heads went offline, the sailors said. More often, they said, all heads either forward or aft of the middle of the ship have gone out of service, or clusters of heads scattered through different departments have been shut down.
The Navy, in a written statement, acknowledged problems with the system since the ship was delivered in May 2009. Sailors have spent more than 10,000 man hours addressing the toilets’ vacuum system on this deployment, averaging roughly 25 calls per week for commode problems. Most problems were fixed within 24 hours, with some requiring just a few minutes of work, said a statement from Naval Air Force Atlantic, adding that the ship had a “94 percent availability of commodes” throughout the deployment.
The contractor that supplied the system, Evac, did not make a representative available as of Monday afternoon after three queries from Navy Times over six days. According to the company’s website, Evac also worked on the amphibious transport dock San Antonio’s toilet system and systems for luxury cruise liners. The Navy statement said the system is also installed aboard Arleigh Burke-class destroyers and other San Antonio-class ships, but it was unclear if those systems were installed by Evac or whether any of those ships have had problems.
Sailors said the head issue is a major problem on the $6.2 billion carrier. While it has provided countless opportunities to make jokes related to bodily functions, they said, it has also hurt morale. Some sailors are limiting their food and fluid intake, risking dehydration. Others have ignored nature’s call for so long that they’ve developed urinary tract infections. The problem has made it tougher for sailors to keep the ship combat-ready, they said.
The Navy statement did not address reports of sickness.
Some are taking extra showers when they need to urinate. Women are finding working men’s heads and putting a sentry at the door. Or they’ll use the industrial sinks in their workspaces. Men are sneaking onto catwalks to surreptitiously relieve themselves without getting busted by a master-at-arms on patrol, searching for sailors using anywhere but a head as a bathroom.
“If you violate a direct order, you go to mast. We had one seaman go thus far,” one chief told Navy Times.
An AIRLANT spokesman confirmed that one sailor received non-judicial punishment for “urinating on a sponson.”
Some men have taken to urinating into bottles and dumping the contents over the side — a potentially messy practice that can soil the side of the ship or the hangar deck, aircraft or fellow sailors, depending on how it catches the wind.
“It’s certainly more risk-free than standing and peeing on the catwalks, but still it’s ridiculous,” a second class petty officer said.
If possible, sailors will use one of the operational heads, but it takes extra work to find one, the second class said. When the urge strikes, you have to get the gouge on the location of a working head — hopefully it won’t be on the far side of the 1,094-foot-long carrier. When you find one that’s working, there’s often a line to get inside. As they wait, sailors do a quick survey of who has reached their physical limit, and sailors who need to go the most get bumped to the front of the queue.
“We all assess who is going to go in their pants first and set the lines according to that,” the second class said.
Okay, that was bad. Really. And I sincerely apologize. My heart goes out to the sailors who are having to find “creative” ways to deal with their bodily functions, especially the women. Hope your next deployment is on a better boat, folks.
But how strangely fitting that it happened on the carrier named after Dubya’s old man, of all vessels. Maybe the Powers That Be are trying to tell us something about vanity and human folly?