Navy Investigation Reveals Critical Issues in SEAL Training Program Following Candidate’s Death
The Navy has released the findings of its investigation into the death of Seaman Kyle Mullen, a SEAL candidate who tragically passed away after completing the arduous “Hell Week” training in California. The investigation has shed light on significant problems within the Basic Underwater Demolition/Sea, Air, and Land (BUD/S) program, pointing to a lack of medical oversight and an accumulation of unrecognized risks across multiple systems.
Seaman Kyle Mullen collapsed and later died in February 2022 at a San Diego area hospital, shortly after reporting symptoms of an unknown illness during training. The Navy subsequently determined that Mullen’s cause of death was acute pneumonia with an enlarged heart as a contributing factor, ruling that it was “in the line of duty, not due to his own misconduct.”
The tragic incident has highlighted the rigorous and demanding nature of SEAL training, which encompasses underwater demolition, survival skills, and combat tactics. Candidates endure sleep deprivation and undergo rigorous tests to assess their physical, mental, and psychological capabilities. The attrition rate stands at a staggering 50% to 60%.
“Hell Week,” a grueling five-and-a-half-day test, is widely regarded as one of the most challenging phases of SEAL training. Mullen’s passing prompted administrative actions against a former commanding officer of the Basic Training Command, the commander of the Naval Special Warfare Command, and senior medical staff members.
As a result of the investigation, three Navy officers received administrative “non-punitive” letters. Navy Capt. Brian Drechsler, the former commander of the Naval Special Warfare Center, was removed from his position. Capt. Brad Geary, commanding officer of Naval Special Warfare’s Basic Training Command, and an unnamed senior medical officer also received letters. The report identified concerns with the medical officer’s command but did not disclose their name. The investigation also revealed inadequate oversight, insufficient risk assessment, poor medical command and control, and undisclosed usage of performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs) by sailors attempting to pass the SEAL qualification course.
Rear Adm. Peter Garvin, commander of the Naval Education and Training Command, emphasized the necessity of relentless self-assessment and self-correction within all departments of the Naval Special Warfare Command’s Basic Training Command. In response to Mullen’s death, the Navy has implemented several improvements to its training program, including enhanced instructor oversight and training, more comprehensive medical screenings for cardiac conditions, updated medical policies and standard operating procedures, and expanded authority to test candidates for PEDs.
Seaman Kyle Mullen, hailing from Manalapan Township, New Jersey, joined the Navy in March 2021 and reported to SEAL training in Coronado in July of the same year. Rear Adm. Keith Davids, commander of the Naval Special Warfare Command, expressed gratitude to the investigation team for their insightful recommendations, emphasizing the Navy’s commitment to ensuring the best possible training program for future Navy SEALs while honoring Mullen’s memory.
Mullen’s mother, Regina Mullen, has called for command officers to be held accountable for her son’s death, characterizing the training as “torture, not training.” The Navy’s investigation serves as a crucial reminder of the need to learn from such incidents and prevent their recurrence, prioritizing the safety and well-being of all SEAL candidates.