Ten people, including two high-ranking Navy SEALs, have been singled out for possible prosecution as a result of last year’s training death ofhours after he had completed the infamous “Hell Week.”
A Navy official says the 10 are identified in an investigation that concluded that “failures across multiple systems” led to the death of the 24-year-old Mullen and the hospitalization of three other members of his SEAL training class after a week of non-stop physical stress, much of it in the cold waters off Southern California in February 2022. A redacted copy of the investigation in which most of the names have been blacked out was released Thursday.
The 200-page report said a medical program designed to monitor the health of the SEAL candidates was “wholly inadequate” and was the most direct cause of Mullen’s death from pneumonia.
The report also cited an increase in the intensity of the training that produced an unusually high dropout rate, a trend which the commander of training, Capt. Brad Geary, blamed on the current generation’s lack of mental toughness. Geary and his immediate superior, Capt. Brian Drechsler, then the commander of the Naval Special Warfare Center in Coronado, Calif., are both singled out for their lack of oversight, along with the program’s senior medical officer. All three men have since left their positions.
Fifty-eight members of Mullen’s class of SEAL candidates started Hell Week — just 21 finished. By Thursday of Hell Week, Mullen was in what one of his classmates called “full messed up mode,” coughing up dark fluid but unwilling to seek medical attention for fear he would be dropped from the course. Twice in the closing hours of Hell Week he was pulled from training and administered oxygen. Once he had to ride from one location to another in an ambulance.
After he completed Hell Week, Mullen and the other trainees were given physical exams and sent to their barracks to recover. Mullen was pronounced “fit to train” even though he had to be transported to the barracks in a wheelchair.
There were no medical personnel on hand in the barracks to keep Mullen or any of his classmates under observation. When he and three others started experiencing increased difficulty breathing, other sailors called the medical clinic and were told they could call 911 but they might end up being washed out of the course. By the time someone finally called 911, it was too late to save Mullen.
The investigation conducted by the Naval Education and Training Command described a training environment which made the already notoriously tough course even tougher with less sleep and time for recovery. In an average class, roughly a third of SEAL candidates wash out in the first three weeks.
After Capt. Geary took over the training, the dropout rate started to climb toward 50%, and civilian observers complained that the SEAL instructors seemed more interested in weeding out weak performers than in training them. According to the report, some of the instructors, all of whom had been through the same course earlier in their careers, felt standards had fallen and as a result, the training was turning out poor operators.
When the civilian complaints reached Geary, he told them to back off and said he believed the primary reason for the high dropout rate was that the current generation had less mental toughness. The overall commander of the SEALS, now retired Rear Admiral Hugh Wyman Howard, told the training command it would be all right if no one made it through the course, as long as standards weren’t lowered.
The results of the investigation will now be turned over to the Navy’s legal command, although an official said it is unlikely all 10 individuals singled out in the report will end up facing a court martial. The report also details a number of changes made to SEAL training as a result of Mullen’s death but warns that “candidates continue to be exposed to unnecessary medical risk.”
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