The U.S. Navy has launched a new investigation into its SEAL training course after video surfaced of instructors hosing down a group of SEAL candidates with tear gas for over a minute.
CBS Evening News tweeted the clip of the tear-gas video, which was reportedly taken last year on San Clemente Island in California.
As instructors sprayed the gas, the trainees were reportedly ordered to sing “Happy Birthday” so they couldn’t hold their breaths. The trainees could only be heard singing the first line of the song before their chorus turned into disorganized series of coughs, gags and screams.
The video was reportedly obtained by investigative reporter Matthew Cole, who recently authored the book “Code Over Country: The Tragedy + Corruption of SEAL Team Six,” alleging war crimes and corruption within the most elite SEAL unit, known as Team Six or the Naval Special Warfare Development Group (DEVGRU).
CBS News reported that after seeing the video, the admiral in charge of Navy SEALs ordered an investigation, saying the incident raised questions about “the lawfulness of the behavior.”
Exposure to tear gas is part of SEAL training, but the investigation is looking into whether tear gas was sprayed too close to SEAL trainees and for too long.
The newly reported investigation comes just weeks after Vice Chief of Naval Operations, Adm. William K. Lescher reportedly ordered an outside investigation into the Basic Underwater Demolition/SEALs (BUD/S) course. BUD/S is a component of the process by which sailors become Navy SEALs. The outside investigation reportedly began after 24-year-old SEAL candidate named Kyle Mullen died during BUD/S training in February.
After learning about the latest investigation into the tear gas incident, U.S. Army Green Beret sniper Tim Kennedy criticized the Navy probe, saying it would lead to a softening in the famously grueling and elite training course.
“There is a dangerous precedent being set,” Kennedy told the Daily Mail. “I’m concerned that we’ve become a soft culture, and the softening or our training as a product of these stories and society’s response could negatively impact our military.”
Kennedy said the scrutiny of investigations like this one “can cause our instructors to fear losing their jobs or shaming their unit. If our instructors have to censor themselves and what they do, then they might not be willing to push recruits, and that’s something that can get our young men and women killed.”
Kennedy recounted his own intense training for the Green Berets, saying he was made to crawl for miles even as his skin started to peel off.
He said that while the training experience was painful, it proved useful when he had to crawl for hours as a sniper in Afghanistan.
“Everything I went through, all the pain, hazing, what would be considered horrific today, everything was useful,” Kennedy told Daily Mail.