During the four-day annual Sea-Air-Space 2021 conference, the Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral Michael Gilday, told the audience that the Navy SEAL community suffered from issues with character and ethics. 

The conference brings together the U.S. defense industries, private-sector companies, and key military decision-makers from the sea services for an educational and professional event.

Gilday was on a panel with Commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps Gen. David Berger and Commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard Admiral Karl Schultz discussing Tri-Service Maritime Leadership. The panel was moderated by Admiral John Richardson, Retired 31st Chief of Naval Operations.

Character and Ethics Identified as Navy SEAL Problem Areas by Chief of Naval Operations
The three leaders discuss maritime leadership. (Military.com)

 Gilday spoke about the review ordered for all U.S. Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) units. He mentioned that a “comprehensive review” was needed similar to the one that the Navy had ordered for its surface fleet after two destroyers had collided with merchant vessels claiming the lives of 17 sailors in 2017. 

However, Gilday said, the issue “with the SEALs […] wasn’t professional competency like it was in the surface community; it was character and ethics.”

USSOCOM Commander Army General Richard Clarke had ordered the comprehensive review in 2019 after several breakdowns in unit discipline had threatened to erode the country’s trust in our special operations forces. 

Many of the events centered around but were not limited to the Navy SEAL community. 

The Court-martial of CPO Eddie Gallagher

Gallagher’s case generated a ton of negative publicity for the Navy and SEALs. Gallagher was charged with the death of a young ISIS fighter in Iraq, who had been seriously wounded and captured. 

Among many other charges including witness intimidation, Gallagher was charged with the murder of the ISIS captive. During the pre-trial process, Gallagher was interred in a Navy brig. Many members of Congress urged the Navy to release him until the trial. Finally, President Trump stepped in and ordered Gallagher to be transferred to a less restrictive environment.

Photo of Navy Chief Eddie Gallagher with the corpse of an ISIS fighter in Iraq. (Wikipedia)

Gallagher was found not guilty of the most serious charges. He was only found guilty for posing for a photograph with a corpse. Despite this, he was reduced in rank by one grade, ordered to lose over $2,700 a month for four months, and have his SEAL Trident revoked. President Trump then stepped in and reversed the decision.

In another move, Trump ordered the reversal of Navy Commendation Medals that were awarded to the prosecution team. The lead prosecutor Cmdr. Christopher Czaplak was removed from the trial by the judge after serious allegations of misconduct were levied against him. Czaplak allegedly violated ethical or professional rules by placing tracking in defense emails in trying to find news leaks. 

Although Gallagher was exonerated from all the serious charges, the affair was looked upon as a black eye for the SEALs. 

The Death of Green Beret Sergeant Logan Melgar

Two Navy SEALs, Petty Officer Anthony E. DeDolph and Chief Petty Officer Adam C. Matthews, along with two U.S. Marine Corps Raiders were charged with the felony murder of the Green Beret in Bamako, Mali in 2017. 

The four men frequently changed their story and explained that the death of Melgar was just a hazing stunt gone horribly wrong. Matthews was sentenced to just a year in prison for agreeing to testify against the others. DeDolph, a former MMA fighter who put Melgar in a chokehold that killed him, was sentenced to 10 years in prison for lesser charges but not for murder.

Former SEAL and MMA fighter Anthony DeDolph (left) was sentenced to 10 years for the death of Green Beret Logan Melgar (right). (File photo)

A SEAL Team 7 Platoon Was Sent Home 

Back in 2019, three top leaders of SEAL Team Seven were fired after the Foxtrot platoon was sent home early from Iraq following reports of a sexual assault by one of the team members and widespread drinking during a July 4 barbecue.

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The incident came to light just a few days after the court-martial of Eddie Gallagher was completed and the SEALs were under a microscope.

Rear Adm. Collin Green, the Navy’s highest-ranking SEAL, rescinded the Trident pin for Petty Officer Nicholas Olsen who was accused of the sexual assault. Further, he fired SEAL Team Seven’s commanding officer Cmdr. Edward Mason, Command Master Chief Hugh Spangler, and Navy SEAL Lt. Cmdr. Luke Im, saying their leadership failures led to a breakdown of order and discipline within two units in Iraq.

Navy SEAL Character and Ethics Will Be Emphasized

In late April, CBS News reported about rampant drug use and criminality within the ranks. CBS’s Catherine Herridge spoke with current and former SEALs who acknowledged that while the majority had “served with honor,” there was a growing problem within the SEALs.

Admiral Gilday said on Monday that the Naval Special Warfare command had placed greater emphasis “on character and ethics in terms of their mentoring and their training.”

“I just spoke with the Naval Special Warfare commander and he had just finished interviewing a number of chief petty officers to go overseas in a… high-risk operation,” Gilday said.

Those who were not selected are “now… going through remedial training to get them back to [the level needed for future missions]” Gilday continued.