A storm has been developing in the depths of Uncle Sam’s floating fortresses, one of stress and pressure that is chewing at the souls of those who stand the watch. A recent Navy survey, canvassing the silent cries of 19,380 sailors, has thrown a stark light on a troubling surge in stress levels— a third of our brethren at sea grappling with the kind of pressure that cracks steel.

Let’s dive straight into the 2023 Navy Health of Force Report, released by the service on February 15, 2024.

The Brunt of the Burden: Junior Enlisted on the Frontlines

Back in 2019, a mere 26 percent of our sea warriors flagged high stress as a concern.

Fast forward to 2023, and the numbers have spiked, with the junior to mid enlisted ranks, those grunts from E-1 to E-6, bearing the brunt of this mental maelstrom.

Over 40 percent of these young titans are wading through severe stress, their shoulders buckling, while the brass and junior officers claim to ride a slightly calmer wave, with 30 and 27 percent, respectively, feeling the squeeze.

FY23 Career Plans
2023 Navy Health of the Force Report | Comparison of Survey Participant Career Plans by Gender & Grace (Screengrab via US Navy Report)

The Culprits: Understaffing and Quality of Life Quandaries

The culprits? Thin ranks and life’s qualms ashore casting long shadows over duty’s call. It’s a double-edged sword that’s cutting deep, driving a worrying wedge of attrition.

A staggering 23 percent of sailors are now eyeing the gangway, ready to jump ship—a figure that’s tripled since 2022.

And let’s not overlook the fence-sitters, about 20 percent, undecided if the Navy’s anchor still holds any weight for them.