After virtually unprecedented public scrutiny of the elite force’s top ranks, the outgoing commander is in the middle of a campaign to save his name, if not his career, and the incoming leader’s path to the job looks clear.
Rear Adm. Tim Szymanski, named to assume command of the Naval Special Warfare headquarters in Coronado, Calif., this summer, was confirmed for promotion to a second star by the Senate late last month.
That’s despite questions raised by Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., a Marine Corps veteran who asked for an investigation of contracts that Szymanski played a role in earlier in his career.
Meanwhile, Rear Adm. Brian Losey, the SEAL commander slated for retirement this summer after political pressure sunk his promotion to a second star, has broken his silence about what his camp calls a deeply flawed process for investigating military wrongdoing. Losey told The San Diego Union-Tribune on Saturday,
I remain fully accountable for my actions in command. The highest priority of any line commander is in ensuring that our service members have the resources, guidance and empowerment to succeed.
Depending on the situation, this can require rapid adaptive change and hard work. I did what needed to be done to advance mission accomplishment in an urgent and challenging set of problems on the African continent. I learned lessons on how to do it better in the future.
The Pentagon’s inspector general had found that Losey retaliated against three people who worked for him in 2011 at the special operations component of U.S. Africa Command, headquartered in Germany.
The Navy disagreed that there was wrongdoing and pushed forward its nomination for Losey to get his second star. But after pressure this year from U.S. senators known informally as the “whistleblower caucus,” the Navy secretary withdrew the intended promotion.
A campaign to rehabilitate Losey’s reputation has emerged in recent weeks.
Former SEAL officer Ryan Zinke, now a Republican congressman from Montana, spoke in his defense on the House floor May 13. Zinke, who called the Pentagon investigation’s conclusions “cherry-picked” and flawed said,
Once again, an entrusted, entrenched bureaucracy was allowed to hide behind threats, hide behind whistle-blowers, hide behind rules that were intended to protect command and not to erode it.
On the same day, a story on the Daily Beast website questioned the Pentagon investigation into Losey — clearly using documents supplied by Navy insiders.
The Zinke and Daily Beast developments came on top of concerns raised by a past Navy SEAL and a former four-star leader of U.S. Special Operations Command, Bill McRaven.
McRaven’s April 24 guest opinion piece in the Tampa Tribune — Tampa, Fla. is home to the special-operations headquarters — described a “disturbing trend” of politicians denigrating military leaders to further personal agendas.
He cast Losey’s situation in this light.
McRaven added that if this “trend of disrespect toward the military” continues, it will discourage good people from serving in uniform — or worse, make them too timid to render tough decisions for fear of repercussions.
Undeterred over in the House, Hunter said he will continue to scrutinize the incoming SEAL leader. Hunter is buoyed in part by the story of a retired SEAL senior chief who believes his career was tanked, and his life put in danger, after he filed an official complaint about how Szymanski and others dealt with contracts for SEAL training programs.
At issue is how SEALs are taught to fight — including hand-to-hand combat, handling prisoners and using weapons.
For years starting in the 1990s, a civilian contractor named Duane Dieter schooled SEALs on a proprietary curriculum called Close Quarters Defense.
Enter mixed martial arts, made popular by televised Ultimate Fighting Championship bouts.
Some SEALs became practitioners and wanted to incorporate it into their own regimen. Szymanski, an officer with a career on the ascent, was reportedly one of them.
A passionate dispute arose in 2011 and continues today about what system the nation’s SEALs should learn, and who should teach them — particularly whether it should be former SEALs who go into business teaching mixed martial arts.
Underpinning this is a larger internal debate about SEALs appearing to “trade on the Trident” when they leave uniform — something that some find distasteful.
In April, Hunter asked Defense Secretary Ashton Carter to investigate the SEAL training contracts for evidence of insider dealings by Szymanski.
The congressman, a member of the House Armed Services Committee, said he would speak out against Szymanski’s rise to the top SEAL job in Coronado until he was satisfied.
His office hasn’t received a response from the Pentagon.
Interviewed this month, Hunter is sticking to his demand for further investigative scrutiny.
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