“Don’t go to the light!” The image is forever burned into my consciousness: a SEAL instructor at Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL (BUD/S) training screaming into the face of an unconscious trainee, flat on his back, being administered oxygen beside the training pool in Coronado, California.
Shallow-water blackouts are relatively common at BUD/S, as trainees struggle through underwater evolutions such as the 50-meter underwater swim, underwater knot tying, and pool competency. While instructors and students alike would often chuckle at a trainee once he was pulled from the pool and revived from his blackout, such instances in the pool are no laughing matter.
This fact was sadly and tragically evidenced last week, as two active-duty SEALs in Little Creek, Virginia—SO1 Seth Cody Lewis and SO1 Brett Allen Marihugh—drowned in the Combat Swimmer Training Facility at the Joint Expeditionary Base, Little Creek, while doing some sort of unspecified breath-hold training. As pointed out in an article here at SOFREP, the two were part of the Advanced Training Command (ATC), and were found at the bottom of the pool at 3 p.m. on Friday, April 24th.
As further pointed out in an article in the Norfolk, Virginia-based Virginian Pilot online, a spokesman for Naval Special Warfare Group 2 (NSWG-2) stated that the deaths were being investigated to determine how the accidental drownings occurred.
This heartbreaking scenario is illustrative of the dangers that often accompany pushing oneself and one’s teammates to the absolute physical limits of endurance and performance. SEALs, and other Special Operations Forces (SOF), routinely train in dangerous and extreme conditions. Whether as a result of high altitude, low opening night parachute jumps, complicated nighttime shooting and maneuvering drills in thick woods, or nighttime surf passage operations with motorized inflatable zodiac boats through rough surf zones, SEALs have perished in a number of different training accidents over the decades.
Most members of SOF units accept this risk—to a degree—and often, in fact, thrive on it. They love the adrenaline, and they take pride, and have confidence in, the fact that they and their teammates can keep each other alive. This works very well in combat situations because it is honed in training. SEALs and other SOF members rely on each other to watch one another’s backs. We have to. There are times when there’s no one else out there with us to watch out for us.
That is what makes this most recent double training fatality so tragic. It was not a case of a failing parachute, or a freak blow to the head by a capsizing zodiac’s motor. This was a situation that should have been prevented by someone closely observing those SEALs as they trained underwater.
Where was the instructor pulling them out, giving them O2, and telling them not to go to the light? Why wasn’t another SEAL swimming on the surface, observing them as they held their breath?
The full details of this tragedy have not been made public, so none of us outside the command should judge what happened. I just wish someone else had been there on that pool deck, chuckling at their knucklehead buddies as they were revived, bringing them back to fight another day.
Rest in peace, brothers.