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End of Navy SEALs as we know it? Navy to investigate famous SEAL BUD/S course says report

U.S. Navy SEAL candidates participate in Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL (BUD/S) training. (U.S. Navy photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Abe McNatt)
September 12, 2022

The U.S. Navy has ordered a high-level investigation of the Basic Underwater Demolition/SEALs (BUD/S) course, according to a new report on Friday. Such a high-level investigation into a major SEAL component could open the floodgates to congressional scrutiny and reform, potentially changing the entire course of the Navy SEALs.

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Vice Chief of Naval Operations, Adm. William K. Lescher ordered the investigation in a letter obtained and reported by the New York Times. Lescher ordered a rear admiral from outside the SEAL leadership to conduct the investigation. Those investigating the BUD/S course to report back with their findings within 30 days.

According to the New York Times, the Navy has grown concerned that the SEAL community has placed too much emphasis on forced suffering while incentivizing recruits to ignore potentially serious illnesses and injuries. The New York Times reported there is a growing subculture among BUD/S candidates of using performance-enhancing drugs to get through the rigorous 24-week course that serves as the first part of the process to become a SEAL.

Lescher’s letter ordering the investigation calls on investigators to look into the course’s safety measures, the qualifications of instructors and medical personnel and its drug testing policies for students.

BUD/S has had a long-standing reputation as a grueling training course and in the past, the SEAL community has welcomed the difficulty as a rite of passage before candidates may go on to serve in some of the most high-risk combat missions.

Only about one in four BUD/S candidates have passed the course in the past 20 years. Since February of 2021, the pass rate for BUD/S has fallen to about half the average seen in the past 20 years. Some classes had only seen seven percent of candidates pass in that time.

The drop in BUD/S pass rates reportedly coincided with the arrival the course’s latest command team, led by Capt. Bradley Geary. Geary has served with the SEAL’s most elite team, known as SEAL Team 6 or the Naval Special Warfare Development Group (DevGru).

Throughout Geary’s tenure as the leader of the BUD/S course command team, the course had reportedly been even harder than normal and several safety warnings have gone unanswered.

The investigation comes after a 24-year-old SEAL candidate named Kyle Mullen died after the BUD/S course’s infamous “Hell Week” in February. An autopsy report shared with Mullen’s family in June revealed that he had died of acute pneumonia. The report said Mullen “had completed Hell Week and was being looked after by non-medical personnel to help him tend to his basic need.

“He was in a wheelchair most of the time, unable to stand and walk on his own,” the autopsy report stated. “He had reportedly been coughing/spitting up red-tinged fluid which had nearly filled a 36 oz. sports drink bottle.”

The SEAL candidate’s mother, Regina Mullen, recalled that he had discussed facing mistreatment in August and his face was swollen and he was spitting up blood during his second week of BUD/S in January.

The autopsy report said one of the other SEAL candidates in Mullen’s class requested medical attention at the end of Hell Week due to feeling like he couldn’t breathe. As an ambulance arrived for that candidate, Mullen also became unresponsive.

“When the ambulance crew arrived, they shifted their attention to Seaman Mullen and transported him to the hospital, where he was later pronounced deceased,” the autopsy report stated.

After reading the autopsy report, Regina Mullen told “I want them all in jail … never able to work in the Navy. They should be in jail.

“This is like murder to me and no one seems to care, but I care and I’m not going to stop,” she said. “My whole community cares.”

A candidate who was with Mullen during BUD/S said Mullen fell behind on runs and instructors singled him out for “remediation” which meant extra push-ups, situps and plunges into the surf that all likely worsened his condition. Mullen’s fellow BUD/S candidate told the New York Times he collapsed at one point and an instructor repeatedly kicked him and told him to quit. Mullen continued to push through the pain.

At one point, Mullen spoke on the phone with his mother and she could tell he was in poor health.

“I said, go to the hospital right away,” Regina Mullen told the New York Times. “He said, ‘No, ma, if you want to go to the hospital, they will make you quit first. Besides, it’s just SIPE.’”

SIPE, or swimming-induced pulmonary edema, is a potentially life-threatening ailment that is reportedly so common among BUD/S candidates that they mostly just refer to it by its acronym. The condition can cause candidates like Mullen to spit and cough up bloody fluid.

Mullen reportedly began secretly taking Viagra; a drug mostly used for erectile dysfunction but which can potentially treat SIPE. Navy rules prohibit the drug’s use, but Mullen began taking Viagra on the advice of other BUD/S candidates.