Navy punishes officers overseeing SEAL training after candidate’s death

The Navy has taken disciplinary action against three officers who oversaw Navy SEAL training earlier this year when a candidate died just hours after completing the infamous “Hell Week.”

An investigation released Wednesday found 24-year-old Kyle Mullen died of acute pneumonia with the contributing cause of an enlarged heart. The report details how a lack of medical observation in the hours after the grueling training delayed getting Mullen the care he needed.  

The Navy has issued letters of warning to Capt. Brian Drechsler, the commanding officer of the Naval Special Warfare Center; Capt. Bradley Geary, the former commanding officer of the Basic Training Command, and a senior medical officer. 

The investigation said Performance Enhancing Drugs (PEDs) were found among Mullen’s belongings but explicitly states they were not a factor in his death. 


The Navy started testing SEAL candidates for PEDs a week after Mullen’s death. So far, almost 1,250 candidates have been tested and 51 have been removed from training.

The SEAL training program has also implemented changes to its medical processes, including a requirement for medical personnel to observe candidates for 24 hours after securing “Hell Week.” 

Mullen died Friday, Feb. 4, 2022, just hours after completing “Hell Week,” which had begun the previous Sunday and consisted almost entirely of non-stop physical activity, much of it in cold Pacific waters and nighttime temperatures, with only four hours sleep total – what the Navy calls “extreme stress in a controlled environment.” 

Other recruits on Thursday saw that Mullen was doing worse than anyone else. He had severe swelling in his legs and was coughing and spitting up fluids. One recruit told investigators that while Mullen tried to nap on Thursday, his breathing sounded like he was “gurgling water.” 

By Friday morning, instructors had to give Mullen oxygen on two occasions and drive him in an ambulance from one location to another so he could finish “Hell Week.” After he stumbled out of the surf for the last time, Mullen told other recruits how happy he was and made calls to his family but was so weak he required a wheelchair, according to the investigation. 

The recruits said that before they were allowed to sleep, they were given a briefing about what they should do for the next several hours as they recovered. 

They said they were told that if they had an issue, they should call the on-duty medical officer. “We will see you at any time,” read the instructions, which are included in the report.  

If it was a serious emergency, they should call 911, but they were cautioned against seeking outside help because other doctors might not understand “Hell Week” and, seeing their physical condition, could hospitalize them. 

Recruits who were waiting for their own SEAL class to begin and had no medical experience were assigned to watch them in their barracks, according to the report. One recruit told investigators medical personnel made one sweep of the barracks around noon to check if everyone was accounted for but did not appear to check anyone’s medical status.   

During the course of the afternoon, Mullen’s condition deteriorated – his skin had turned blue and he was spitting and coughing up blood. 

The recruits watching Mullen and his classmates said they called the duty medical officer who told them to call 911 if it was a serious emergency. But Mullen insisted he didn’t want to go to the hospital because he was afraid that would get him rolled back to another class and he would have to go through “Hell Week” again.

One of the recruits in charge of watching Mullen told investigators he believed they should have taken Mullen to the hospital anyway because he wasn’t “in his right mind.”

By the time the recruits finally called 911, it was too late to revive Mullen.

Wednesday’s release is not the last investigation into Mullen’s death. A wider investigation into the circumstances surrounding his death is currently underway and will look into the safety measures in place, the qualifications of the instructors and medical providers, and the “prevalence” of PEDs use in Mullen’s class.

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