One of the most advanced and secretive submarines in the US Navy is fighting an unusual enemy: bed bugs. The service has downplayed the situation aboard the Seawolf-class USS Connecticut, which is currently at the pier in its home port in Washington state. However, sailors have told several outlets that they believe the situation is more serious than recognized and has been for about a year.
Navy Times’ Geoff Ziezulewicz was the first to cover the situation and received pictures that reportedly show dead bed bugs caught on the USS Connecticut. The Navy has confirmed the insects were a current problem for the sub, although it is unclear whether the service believes there is still an active infestation. Details of how the beetles got on board in “perforated bulkheads between bunks” have not yet been released. It is also not clear when the boat will be last used and when it will return to Kitsap-Bremerton Naval Base. So far there is no evidence that their continued presence prevented the insects from leaving port for planned missions or other activities.
USS Connecticut at Kitsap-Bremerton Naval Base in 2018.
Bed bugs are blood-sucking parasites, and their bites can cause skin irritation that is broadly similar to that of other insects such as mosquitos. “Bite reactions can range from the absence of physical signs of the bite to a minor bite mark to a serious allergic reaction,” said the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Bed bugs are not considered dangerous. However, an allergic reaction to multiple bites may require medical attention.”
Connecticut is one of only three Seawolf-class boats that the Navy officially classifies as an attack submarine. The others are the USS Seawolf and the USS Jimmy Carter. The task of the service after the Cold War to acquire a total of 29 of these submarines later led to their assignment to an alleged development policy unit, which is also responsible for carrying out other special missions.
The Seawolfs, which you can read about in more detail in this earlier piece on War Zone, are known for being particularly quiet and for cruising for very long periods of time, including under the ice in the Arctic. Even more secretive than his sisters, Jimmy Carter represents the only member of a unique subclass to have received a 100-foot extension known as the Multi-Mission Platform (MMP), specially equipped to carry out underwater espionage missions, in which objects of interest are inspected, manipulated and even recovered from the sea floor.
“The Navy takes the safety and health of its seafarers very seriously,” Navy Commander Cynthia Fields, spokeswoman for Commander, Submarine Force, US Pacific Fleet, or COMSUBPAC told Navy Times Bed Bug Mattresses are underway and Navy entomologists “have authorized countermeasures and certify that all possible measures have been taken to control bed bugs, “she added.
“After two uses of Navy-approved pesticide sprays and the application of a long-acting diatomite dust, entomologists recommended repopulating berths [spaces]”, added her.” All appropriate countermeasures have been put in place with firm plans to address further outbreaks if they occur. “
A seaman manned a post aboard the USS Connecticut in 2018.
Some seafarers who spoke to the Navy Times on condition of anonymity, as well as the local Kitsap Sun newspaper, clearly feel that the situation has not been resolved and that the Navy leadership has been slow to act. They claim the USS Connecticut’s berths have been full of bed bugs since at least March 2020, when the submarine was stationed in the Arctic in support of the 2020 Ice Exercise (ICEX 2020).
“We’ve had bed bugs for a year now,” a junior officer told the Navy Times. “Seafarers complained about being bitten in the racks.”
“People are scared of getting something,” they added.
“People were being eaten alive on their shelves,” said another little officer of the point of sale.
“The best way to put it would probably be ‘abuse of staff’, but that’s probably not a real thing in the Navy,” said a third sergeant.
According to reports, the sailors slept in chairs, on the floor or in other rooms of the boat, such as in the clutter of the crew so as not to be bitten while the boat was in use. With submarines, seafarers generally have to live and work in very confined spaces. As a result, there were almost certainly limited alternative sleeping options. “Some people slept on metal diamond decks because they didn’t want to sleep in the racks. Said a little officer.
After Connecticut returned home, a temporary structure full of cribs was initially set up as a sleeping area for the on-duty staff on the boat to escape the insects. However, there have been complaints that this was insufficient at best. “There aren’t nearly enough racks to hold a full service department, so people have put up hammocks to sleep in,” one junior officer told the Navy Times.
The crew members speaking out seem generally to acknowledge the limited options available to respond to the bed bugs while the sub was in action, but they have questioned the response since the boat returned home. They also continued to express concerns about the potentially serious impact the situation could have had on their performance at sea. “If someone is deprived of sleep because they are in bed and being eaten alive by bed bugs, they could fall asleep at (the controls) and run us into an underwater mountain,” remarked one small officer.
Sailors work aboard the USS Connecticut.
The Navy has denied a number of these allegations, stating that the first official reports of bed bugs on the submarine were not made until December 2020 and actual evidence of the presence of the bed bugs was not provided until February 2021. None of the members of the USS Connecticut crew did not have a “significant skin reaction to the insects,” Commander Fields, the COMSUBPAC spokesman, told Kitsap Sun.
Seafarers say this is due to the fact that Navy regulations require detection of bed bugs before action can be taken and that it has been difficult to achieve. Mature bed bugs are usually only four to five millimeters in length, and “their flattened bodies allow them to fit into tiny crevices no wider than a toothpick,” according to an explainer for the University of Kentucky Entomology Department. According to the Navy Times, crew members told the point of sale that efforts were being made to cordon off various areas of the submarine but were unable to stop the spread of the insects.
Connecticut crew members also said their superiors were aggressive against the idea that initial efforts to steam-clean and otherwise disinfect the berths to rid the boat of the insects during an earlier one-month shutdown had been unsuccessful. “Our top leadership said,” If we clean and sanitize all of these things and someone points out bed bugs, they’re fucking lying, “a junior officer told the Navy Times.
Registered sailors assigned to the submarine told the Navy Times they felt they were now being used as bait to see if recent efforts to get rid of the bed bugs were successful. “They’re using us as live bait … to see if (the bed bugs) are still there,” explained a small officer. “The upper chain of command will not sleep in these racks. You will get the lower soldiers to do it. “
There are also concerns that seafarers may now bring bed bugs back into their personal homes. “They have to pay for fumigants and their families will suffer,” warned a minor officer, although there is no evidence yet that the insects have spread that widely.
Whatever the exact details, the bed bug situation aboard the USS Connecticut is only the latest in a series of moral and other readiness issues the Navy has faced in recent years, particularly among its submarine crews. Boats and warships. This was only exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, which resulted in ships staying at sea longer than usual without visiting ports. As a rule, submarines have been at sea longer than surface ships.
By far the most notable recent scandal was the COVID-19 outbreak of the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt last year. This incident turned into a political firestorm after the ship’s commanding officer, Captain Brett Crozier, was dismissed after the leakage of a letter warning of the gravity of the situation, and eventually led to the resignation of the then acting secretary of the Marine Thomas Modly. Task & Purpose recently received a tranche of emails providing further insight into this debacle through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit.
It remains to be seen how the bed bug issue on board the USS Connecticut will be finally resolved.
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