Death of New Jersey Navy Seal candidate prompts overhaul of how ‘Hell Week’ training course is monitored
WASHINGTON– An inadequate medical exam and misinformed medical personnel contributed to the death of a Navy SEAL candidate hours after completing a brutal portion of the training course known as “Hell Week”, a Navy investigation has found.
The investigation has prompted an overhaul of how the Navy oversees one of the Army’s most brutal and demanding processes.
He found the medical support for the Basic Underwater Demolition/Sea and Land Air course to be “poorly organized, poorly integrated and poorly directed”, wrote Rear Admiral Peter Garvin, Commandant of Naval Education. and Training Command. The lack of proper medical care “poses a significant risk to candidates”.
Garvin also said additional accountability measures are needed following the failures that contributed to Mullen’s death. According to a Navy official, Garvin recommended considering accountability actions against about 10 people. A regional Navy legal services office is reviewing the investigation and will make recommendations on liability, the official said, after which the command will decide what action to take.
The training and selection course is designed to push SEAL candidates to the limit and beyond, creating an environment where only the most qualified and capable will finish, but Garvin said there still needs to be a “management effective risk” to prevent injury and illness during high-risk training.
In February 2022, Navy SEAL candidate Kyle Mullen of New Jersey had just completed Hell Week and had a final medical checkup before going to rest at his barracks. The inquest found that Mullen suffered from respiratory problems during strenuous training, but information about the symptoms was not passed on to the Navy Medical Clinic, leading them to conclude that he was not was not at risk.
Eight hours later, Mullen was pronounced dead.
SEE ALSO: Mom of Navy SEAL candidate who died after ‘week from hell’ says tragedy could have been avoided
In the hours before his death, Mullen was coughing up “red-orange fluid” and struggling to breathe, according to the inquest. Although he repeatedly refused advanced medical attention, he appeared to be choking on his words and gasping for air as if drowning. But the personnel assigned to watch Mullen and other SEAL candidates, known as watchmen, had no medical or emergency care training.
Candidates going through Hell Week are normally given a form of penicillin called Bicillin at the start of class to reduce the risk of bacterial pneumonia. But the investigation revealed that Mullen had never received preventive medication, probably because there was a shortage at the time.
Ultimately, the investigation revealed “failures in multiple systems” that put the candidates at high risk for serious injury, Garvin wrote.
“Our effectiveness as the Navy’s maritime special operations force requires demanding, high-risk training,” Rear Admiral Keith Davids, commander of Naval Special Warfare Command, said at the conclusion of the survey. “While rigorous and extremely demanding, our training must be conducted with an unwavering commitment to safety and methodical precision.”
In October, following a separate investigation specifically into Mullen’s death, the Navy took administrative action against the former commanding officer of Basic Training Command, Capt. Bradley Geary; the commandant of the Naval Special Warfare Center, Capt. Brian Drechsler; and senior medical personnel under their command. Administrative action usually takes the form of a letter to the service member requesting that the deficient performance be corrected.
Earlier this month, Drechsler was removed from his post two months earlier.
After Mullen’s death, the Navy revamped how it handles medical screening during the training and selection process. The Navy has increased medical surveillance during and after the Hell Week course, requiring medical examinations every 24 hours.
Candidates now recover from the course at a center located very close to the medical clinic, allowing for more in-depth observation at a critical time, and the shift leader is a qualified high-risk instructor. Additionally, a physician must be on the Naval Special Warfare Center Medical Department throughout Hell Week to evaluate candidates taking the course.
The survey also looked at how to handle the use of performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs) during the course. In September, a senior naval special warfare officer who spoke to CNN on condition of anonymity said there was “beyond reasonable doubt that a significant portion of the candidate population uses a broad range of performance-enhancing drugs”.
A search of Mullen’s car after his death found packages labeled “Big Genes Recombinant Human Growth Hormone” and “Testosterone Cypionate”, a type of steroid. But Mullen was not tested after his death for PEDs due to the need for a blood and urine sample.
Other members of Mullen’s class told investigators they felt there was an implied endorsement of the use of PEDs after an instructor told candidates, “Don’t use PEDs, c It’s cheating and you don’t need it. And whatever you do, don’t get caught with them in your barracks.”
After Mullen’s death, the Navy was given expanded authority by the Department of Defense to test Naval Special Warfare candidates for DEPs. All candidates taking the SEALs course and the Special Warfare Combatant-Craft Crewman course are subject to random drug testing.