In the aftermath of a tragic incident involving a prospective Navy SEAL, the Special Warfare Command is initiating transformative changes in its training and monitoring protocols.
24-year-old Kyle Mullen, hailing from Manalapan, New Jersey, met his untimely demise shortly after making it through the infamous “Hell Week” – a notoriously challenging test undertaken by those undergoing Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL (BUD/S) training. The grueling evaluation held at California’s Coronado Naval Special Warfare Training Center is recognized for its demanding physical and psychological evaluations. Most candidates, in fact, fall short, with dropout rates hovering around 50% to 60%.
While the exact cause of Mullen’s death has been identified as acute pneumonia, with an enlarged heart as a secondary contributing factor, there were no direct implications suggesting wrongdoing on the part of the officers supervising his training. Nonetheless, three have received official reprimands.
Mullen is said to have died “in the line of duty, not due to his own misconduct.”
That statement from Naval Special Warfare provided little comfort to Mullen’s grieving mother, Regina.
Discrepancies arose when certain performance-enhancing substances, notorious for their potentially harmful effects, were discovered among Mullen’s personal effects. Although his autopsy revealed no such drugs in his system, the lack of a blood and urine analysis left questions unanswered and eyebrows raised. This spurred the Navy to address potential substance abuse issues, especially among those participating in rigorous training. Already, 37 personnel have been removed from the training program due to related concerns.
NETC (The Naval Education and Training Command) is delving deeper, scrutinizing the entire SEAL training curriculum, its policies, and the supervisory roles of the commanders. Decisions made by personnel are under review to determine if additional actions or sanctions are required.
However, the most poignant issue revealed by Mullen’s tragic death was the potential cultural problem within the training environment. There appears to be an unspoken pressure that dissuades candidates from seeking necessary medical attention for fear of disqualification. The Navy has acknowledged the gravity of this issue, stating the imperative need to prioritize the health and safety of its candidates.
Immediate reforms include advanced heart screenings for candidates, pneumonia vaccinations, augmented post-Hell Week medical reviews, comprehensive training concerning performance-enhancing drugs, and enhanced instructor training.
Rear Adm. Keith Davids commented on the tragedy, extending condolences to Mullen’s family and asserting that such unfortunate incidents will serve as catalysts for positive change, ensuring that similar tragedies are averted in the future.