It was 2009 in Iraq when one of my teammates decided to initiate an impromptu combatives match with half of a SEAL platoon, never a great idea under any circumstances.  He was the senior Special Forces medic on our team and we had been doing some joint operations with a SEAL platoon in Mosul.  Now we were all blowing off some steam around the camp fire and our medic decided to take it to the next level by “rolling” with a SEAL on the gravel strewn across our camp.

Our Special Forces ODA had a positive experience with the SEALs up until this point, but I was a little concerned.  Tempers can flare and a routine game of military grab ass can turn into full-blown fisticuffs.  I’d seen it happen when I was in Ranger Battalion many a time.  With a dozen SEALs standing over my team-mate, I was worried that it might get out of control and that they would start stomping our medic while he was on the ground.  Thankfully, my concerns were unwarranted.  The SEALs were proportional and took turns rolling with our medic.  A good time was had by all.  Like I said, this is how soldiers blow off steam in-between missions sometimes.

My thoughts were immediately pulled back to that night when the New York Times broke a story that two SEAL Team Six operators were under investigation for the murder of U.S. Special Forces soldier named Logan Melgar.  The incident took place on the night of June 4th in Bamako, the capital of Mali in central Africa.  As Americans have learned as of late, U.S. Special Operations personnel are active in this region of the world, a point brought home by many when a Special Forces ODA (Operational Detachment Alpha) was ambushed in Niger last month.

According to what has been reported, the two SEALs initially told investigators that they found Melgar unsconcious and tried to revive him.  When a medical examiner determined that Melgar died by homicide via asphyxiation, the SEALs apparently changed their story, stating that they were participating in a combatives match with Melgar that went bad.  They tried to resuscitate him but were unsuccessful.

SOFREP sources commenting on the condition of anonymity have reported that Melgar was a good soldier, and held in high regard by his peers in 3rd Special Forces Group.  Furthermore, it is said that 3rd Group and Dev Group (SEAL Team Six) maintained a positive relationship in Mali.  A fellow Green Beret saw Melgar at approximately 3AM and engaged him in a brief conversation.  Everything appeared to be normal. Two hours later, Melgar lay dead, his barracks room looking like it had been hit by a tornado.  The Special Forces Company Commander on the base immediately suspected foul play and initiated the investigation.

But what really happened?  Why did the SEALs initially lie about what happened if it was simply a combatives match gone wrong?  SEAL Team Six has gained notoriety in recent years for a series of high-profile operations but also for committing a string of war crimes, drug abuse, and other indiscretions.  That said, not every SEAL in the unit is involved in such activities and the accused remain innocent until proven guilty.

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It is difficult to imagine how Melgar could have been accidentally killed by being put into a choke hold during a combatives match.  Special Operations soldiers, no doubt including Melgar, are trained in Army combatives which is an off-shoot of Gracie jiu-jitsu.  This fighting style has also been popularized by the rise of Mixed Martial Arts tournaments including the UFC.  Both Melgar and the SEALs must have had previous experience in being “choked out” as well as choking out others.  In Army combatives training, each soldier is intentionally choked out by an instructor for a brief period of time simply to demonstrate that the technique works.

It has been reported that one of the two SEALs under investigation is Petty Officer Anthony DeDolph who not only received hand to hand combat training as a SEAL but is also a former professional MMA fighter.  DeDolph is no doubt well versed in various chokes, holds, and joint manipulations that are incorporated into MMA and the effect that each has on an opponent.

At the moment, we do not know what type of choke was used against Melgar but the coroner ruled asphyxiation, or strangulation which means he was deprived of oxygen.  Most combatives/MMA chokes are actually blood chokes that compress the arteries leading to the brain, thus cutting off the brain from its oxygen supply.  This type of choke can knock someone out in a matter of seconds.  The choke is then released, and the fighter comes to moments later.  A choke like this would have to be held in place for minutes after the opponent has fallen unconscious in order to kill him.

Dr. Johnny Benjamin explains how such a choke hold works and one mechanism that could accidentally kill the participant:

In the internal carotid artery lies a very important structure called the carotid sinus or bulb.  Next to this artery runs the vagus nerve. Compressing these structures causes the body to respond in some very significant ways – primarily decreasing blood pressure and heart rate. Some people (usually unbeknown to them) can have a hypersensitive carotid sinus which when compressed/stimulated can cause a profound drop in blood pressure and heart rate. In these cases, a dangerously irregular heart beat (arrhythmia) can ensue…

The choke goes in, and it’s deep. Your carotid arteries are compressed shut thus significantly reducing blood flow to the brain. The carotid sinus and vagus nerves are also compressed and stimulated to drop blood pressure to the body and heart rate. As luck would have it, you are left in the hands of a less-than-attentive or poorly educated referee, and they are slow to recognize your state of altered consciousness.

Your heart rate and blood pressure continue to plummet. If you happen to be one of those uncommon and unfortunate souls that have a hypersensitive carotid sinus, it isn’t going to be lack of blood flow to the brain that does you in. You should be concerned about that wildly irregular heart beat (arrhythmia).”

But none of this applies if it was actually a choke that closed off the windpipe and prevented Melgar from breathing, rather than the blood choke described above.  These details will no doubt be under close scrutiny by investigators.  Accidentally choking someone to death via a blood or air choke defies belief; more so when there was a second SEAL in the room who could help identify if the Green Beret had fallen unconscious, and warned his team-mate to release him.

Whatever the case, the SEALs and the command at Dam Neck will most likely fall back on their old standby tactic of stonewalling NCIS and other investigators.  The truth behind the incident is unlikely to be uncovered.