a culture of brutality, cheating and drugs

Kyle Mullen always had the natural drive and talent that made success look easy. Until he tried out for the Navy SEALs.

The 24-year-old arrived off the California coast in January for the tough SEAL selection course. in the best shape of his lifeeven better than when he was a state champion defensive end in high school or captain of the football team at Yale.

But in the middle of the third week of the course, a continuous blow of physical and mental difficulties, lack of sleep and hypothermia that the SEALs call Hell Week, the athlete from Manalapan, New Jersey, was with eyes dead from exhaustionriddled with infections and coughing up blood from lungs so full of fluid, his peers said it sounded like he was gargling.

The course started with 210 men. By the middle of Hell Week, 189 had either quit or been injured. But Mullen kept working hard for days, spitting up blood all the while. The instructors and doctors who ran the course, perhaps out of admiration for his courage, they didn’t stop him.

Since 1953, at least 11 men have died in SEAL training.

Since 1953, at least 11 men have died in SEAL training.

And he achieve it. As she struggled out of the cold ocean at the end of Hell Week, the SEAL leaders shook her hand, gave her a pizza, and told her to get some rest. Then he went back to his quarters and lay down on the ground. A few hours later, his heart stopped beating and he died.

That same afternoon, another man who survived Hell Week had to be intubated. Two more were hospitalized that night.

SEAL teams have faced criticism for decades, both from outsiders and from their own Navy leaders, that their selection course, known as Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL Training, or BUD/S, it’s too hard, too brutal and all too often it causes concussions, broken bones, dangerous infections, and near-drowning.

Since 1953, at least 11 men have died.

During the same time, SEAL teams, which perform some of the most difficult military missions, including lightning-fast hostage rescues and the assassination of high-profile terrorists like Osama bin Laden, have insisted that having a bare-knuckle rite of passage is vital to producing the kind of unflinching fighters that teams need. Without BUD/S, they argue, there could be no SEAL.

Mullen’s official cause of death was bacterial pneumonia, but his family says that the real cause was the course itselfin which instructors drove candidates into dangerous states of exhaustion and injury, and medical personnel became so used to seeing the suffering that they did not hospitalize him.

“They killed him,” his mother, Regina Mullen, who is a registered nurse, said in an interview. They say it’s training, but it’s torture. And then they didn’t even get proper medical attention. They treat these guys worse than they are allowed to treat prisoners of war.”

a new complication

Mullen’s death immediately resurfaced old questions about if the curriculum does not go too far.

Many described a culture in which drugs have become deeply ingrained in the course of selection.

Many described a culture in which drugs have become deeply ingrained in the course of selection.

And soon those old questions were complicated by something new.

When the Navy gathered Mullen’s belongings, syringes and performance-enhancing drugs discovered in his car. The captain in charge of BUD/S immediately ordered an investigation, and soon some 40 candidates tested positive or admitted to using steroids or other drugs in violation of Navy regulations.

The Navy has not linked the sailor’s death to drugs. The service is expected to release reports on death from training and drug use in the fall. A Navy spokesman declined to comment on Mullen’s death or allegations of widespread drug use, and said it would be inappropriate to do so before the reports are published and Mullen’s family is informed of their findings.

Still, the prevalence of drugs in BUD/S has some men in the upper echelons of the SEALs deeply puzzled.

Without comprehensive testing, there is no way to assess the full extent of drug use in the program. But more than a dozen current and former candidates described a culture in which drugs have become deeply ingrained in the selection course during the last decade.

SEAL leaders say they don’t have the authority to start a testing program to attack the problem. They formally requested permission from the Navy in June to begin screening all candidates, but are still awaiting a response.

In the meantime, the drugs are there.

In 2021, only 14% finished the course, and this year, less than 10%.

In 2021, only 14% finished the course, and this year, less than 10%.

The Navy has made hundreds of changes over the years intended to improve safety and increase graduation rates. But no matter how hard the Navy has tried to make BUD/S easier, it just seems to get harder.

In the 1980s, about 40% of candidates graduated. In the last 25 years, the average has dropped to 26%. In 2021, it was just 14%, and in Mullen’s class this year, less than 10%.

a second try

When Mullen started BUD/S in January, it was his second try. His first try was in August 2021 and he spent over a year running, swimming and lifting weights to prepare. It lasted less than a day.

Instructors call the first three weeks of BUD/S the attrition phase, a maw of punitive exercise, icy water and bullying intended to eliminate anyone who lacks strength, stamina, and mental toughness, individuals derisively referred to as “landmarks” by instructors.

That first day, the instructors had the candidates run, crawl, do squats and push-ups on the hot sand. without a restMullen’s mother said. In the late afternoon, the men were running in teams, carrying 170-pound inflatable boats on their heads, when Mullen passed out.

A short time later he called his mother from an ambulance and explained that he had not had a drop of water all day. When she fell, she told him, an instructor hurled insults at his inert body and told him to get up. When he didn’t respond, doctors took his temperature and sent him to the hospital with heat stroke.

Mullen was assigned to an internal recovery unit, where he had four months to recover before a second BUD/S attempt.

During her four-month wait, her mother, Mullen, recalled started talking to him about performance-enhancing drugs.

The men he met in the recovery unit were using steroids and human growth hormone, he told her, and was considering it. He told her that he would have to buy a used car as a place to hide the drugs.

“In all his years playing sports, he had never touched those things,” he said. “I told him not to do it. But he ended up buying the car and sharing it with a bunch of guys.”

Passing the course

In a perverse way, the drug problem in BUD/S it’s a natural outgrowth of the mindset SEALs try to cultivateAccording to Benjamin Milligan, a former enlisted SEAL who recently published a history of the force, “Water Beneath the Walls”.

The SEALs want operators who can find unconventional ways to gain an advantage against the enemy, he said in an interview.

“You want guys who can solve problems in war, boys who know how to play dirty, because war is a dirty game,” he said.

An unofficial adage often heard in SEALs holds that “if you’re not cheating, you’re not trying.”

“Nobody can do everything the instructors ask, so you have to learn to cheat to pass“, said. “Everyone knows what happens. The point is to learn not to get caught.”

“Basically, you’re selecting guys who are willing to cheat,” he added. “So it’s not surprising, the boys are going to turn to drugs.”

In the months since Mullen’s death, the family has pushed for accountability. The military is protected by the law from wrongful death claims. Instead, Mullen’s mother says her goal is for Congress to impose independent oversight on BUD/S.

The officers in charge of BUD/S have removed some of the toughest aspects of the field in recent monthsrestricting pre-dawn training and racing with heavy backpacks.

Now six hours of sleep a night is required in all weeks except Hell Week; external auditors have been brought in to observe the instructors; and a higher percentage of seafarers are now making the cut.

But on the beach, the sailors say, the problems continue. A month after Mullen’s death, there was another close call. After an overnight training in the icy surf, one Marine, cold, wet, hungry and exhausted, began shaking violently, then became unresponsive as he was curled up in the arms of another trying to keep him warm, according to two Marines who were there. .

They immediately called the BUD/S medical office, but they said there was no answer. They put his classmate in a hot shower, called 911, and were able to get her civilian medical help.

The next morning, the two sailors said, the instructors let the class know they weren’t happy. To punish them for calling 911, they said, the instructors had the class do long sets of push-ups. Every time someone fell down exhausted, the instructors had the man who had been treated in hospital for hypothermia plunged back into the cold waves.

New York Times

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