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Ten people facing charges over death of Navy SEAL just after training

 May 26, 2023

Following the tragic death of recruit Kyle Mullen during the "Hell Week" of Navy SEAL training, at least ten people, including two high-ranking Navy officers, could face prosecution.

This information was unveiled by an extensive, nearly 200-page report compiled by the Naval Education and Training Command. Medical oversight and care during the exercise were criticized as "poorly organized, poorly integrated, and poorly led," putting trainees at risk.

The Navy's legal command will now examine these findings and determine the next steps, as reported by the Daily Mail.

Details Surrounding Mullen's Death

Mullen, a young man from New Jersey, collapsed and died due to acute pneumonia just hours after completing Hell Week, a rigorous training exercise that involved up to 20 hours of physical exertion daily last year.

In October, the Naval Special Warfare Command released a report stating that Mullen, 24, died "in the line of duty, not due to his own misconduct." An enlarged heart was found to have contributed to his death.

The report also noted that Mullen was not tested for some steroids because blood and urine samples were unavailable. However, multiple vials of drugs and syringes were later found in his car, shedding light on the intense training that pushes SEAL candidates to their limits.

Rigorous SEAL Training

The demanding five-and-a-half-day Hell Week training involves basic underwater demolition, survival, and other combat tactics, allowing sailors to sleep twice for only two hours. The training aims to test physical, mental, and psychological strength and leadership skills.

The process is so challenging that at least 50% to 60% of the participants do not complete it. Out of the 58 members in Mullen's class of SEAL candidates who embarked on Hell Week, only 21 managed to complete the grueling training, CBS News reported.

The investigation triggered by Mullen's death unveiled disturbing facts about the training program for Navy SEALs. Widespread failures in medical care, poor oversight, and the use of performance-enhancing drugs have been said to increase the risk of injury and death to those striving to become elite commandos.

Navy's Response and Future Steps

Following Mullen's death, Navy leaders conducted several reviews and investigations, resulting in a lengthy series of recommendations for changes to medical care staffing, training, and drug testing. The latest report emphasizes that special operations forces are routinely required to carry out high-risk military operations, thus demanding intense training. However, it criticizes SEAL instructors for focusing on weeding out candidates rather than teaching or mentoring.

Rear Adm. Keith Davids, who heads Naval Special Warfare Command, has said that the Navy will learn from the tragedy and has already taken steps to prevent a similar occurrence. He acknowledged the need for demanding, high-risk training but stressed that it must be conducted with an unwavering commitment to safety and precision.

The command aims to honor Seaman Mullen's memory by ensuring that the legacy of their fallen teammate guides them toward the best training program possible for future Navy SEALs.

Calls for Accountability and Radical Change

U.S. Rep. Chris Smith (NJ-04), has expressed that the investigation has exposed a culture that needs radical change. He noted the Navy's willingness to implement profound changes to address the flawed command structure and failures that led to Mullen's death.

Regina Mullen, the late recruit's mother, has vowed to work to bring about changes to ensure that no other family has to face such a tragedy. She insists on serious accountability and is focused on pursuing the next stage of responsibility.

Changes Already Underway

The Navy has already started overhauling procedures, enhancing medical staff training, particularly on heart and breathing problems frequently observed during Hell Week, and conducting more drug testing and heart screening.

The Navy has had a persistent problem with the use of performance-enhancing drugs, with investigations in 2011, 2013, and 2018 leading to discipline and requests for enhanced testing. Until now, the Department of Defense has not authorized random testing for steroids. However, after Mullen's death, the command began some additional testing.

Yet, the new report suggests that the Navy may have been sending candidates mixed messages about these drugs' use. An incident was noted where some candidates interpreted an instructor's remarks about performance-enhancing drugs as an implicit endorsement of their use. This incident underlines the need for clear and strict policies regarding drug use in the barracks.

Challenges and Controversies

Candidates for the SEAL training program often face an internal struggle. The report says that SEAL instructors have perceived candidates' ability to continue training through discomfort and degraded physical condition as a positive trait. This perception creates an environment where candidates are often hesitant to seek medical care, fearing it may be seen as a weakness and could result in them being removed from the course or delaying their completion.

As a result, candidates tend to push on without reporting injuries to medical staff or leaders and may feel pressure to use drugs to keep them going. Mullen had told his mother that he was considering buying some of the performance-enhancing drugs, as he didn't want to be at a disadvantage since many other candidates were taking them. His phone also had text messages discussing their use and attempts to buy them.

The report concludes that Mullen's death was not unforeseeable, considering that candidates had sought medical treatment for pneumonia 11 times in 2021 and early 2022, and there were 112 visits for other similar issues.

The Navy aims to graduate 175 SEAL candidates from an annual pool of around 888. But the recent revelations from Mullen's case demonstrate that a careful balance must be struck between maintaining the rigor of the training and ensuring the safety and well-being of the candidates.