Navy Report Details How Problems Mounted at Brutal SEAL Course
Regina Mullen, Seaman Mullen’s mother, reached by phone, said she was glad the Navy was acknowledging the flaws in the medical system, “However, I am concerned that there has been no accountability to this day.”
In a statement, the commander of all Naval Special Warfare, including the SEALs, Rear Admiral Keith Davids, said the SEALs will work to implement the report’s recommendations to make training safer, adding, “We will ensure We will honor Seaman Mullen’s memory by making sure that our fallen comrade’s legacy guides us to the best possible training program for our future Navy SEALs.
Navy SEALs have tried to strike a balance for decades, making the selection course tough enough to select only elite SEALs, but not so tough that it breaks out good candidates. SEAL training is viewed by soldiers around the world as the gold standard for special forces, so the impact of the course design goes far beyond the small community of Navy SEALs.
Historically, an average of three out of 10 sailors who attempt to complete the course graduate. But graduation rates vary widely over the years, based in part on the whims of instructors, and courses sometimes overlap. Institutionalized hazing. In all, about 11 students have died, and countless others have been seriously injured.
After a new leadership team took over the course in 2021, the graduation rate dropped sharply. When then-commander of Navy Special Warfare, Rear Admiral Hugh W. Howard, was alerted to the drop, he told subordinates that it was okay if no one graduated and that it was more important that the course be rigorous. According to the report, the admiral added, “Zero is a fine number; maintain standards.”
Instructors, who often had little experience or training for the role, took their jobs not as mentors to create new cells, but to “weed out” the weak “at the back of the pack,” the report said. Began to be seen as “share hunters”. A gradual escalation of tough tactics that the report called “lack of intensity” allowed teachers to push course demands “to the extreme end of the acceptable spectrum,” leaving students exhausted, sick and injured.
The course had long employed civilian veterans of SEAL teams to act as mentors, much to the chagrin of young instructors. But under the new leadership, these experienced soldiers were marginalized. Soon, less than 10 percent of students in some classes were making it through the course.