Kyle Mullen: Navy SEAL candidate died of bacterial pneumonia hours after Hell Week training, Navy investigation finds


Navy SEAL candidate Kyle Mullen, 24, died of bacterial pneumonia hours after completing what is known as “Hell Week” during the special operations force’s demanding basic training program in February, a Navy service investigation released Wednesday found.

While there were several signs that Mullen had breathing problems and was coughing up fluid during the last 24 hours of practice, he was not pulled from practice and not sent to a hospital when it was completed.

Navy investigators concluded that Mullen died in the line of duty “through no fault of his own,” a Naval Special Warfare Command Public Affairs news release said.

Mullen’s death has sparked criticism of the Navy SEALs’ intense Hell Week training program. There have been 10 Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL (BUD/S) (the formal name for the program) training-related deaths since 1953, according to the Navy.

The more than 300-page investigation explains the cause of Mullen’s death, the events leading up to his death in the final hours of the Hell Week training program, and possible signs that were missed by medical caregivers and observers. The Navy has adopted some process changes since Mullen’s death as a result.

Administrative actions have been taken against the former commander of the Basic Training Command, Capt. Bradley Geary, the commander of the Naval Special Warfare Center, Capt. Brian Drechsler and senior medical personnel under their command, the Navy said. An administrative action is typically in the form of a letter to the service member instructing them to correct deficient performance. It doesn’t always lead to the end of a career.

Those administrative actions “will be reviewed during the” separate investigation led by senior Navy leaders and led by the Navy’s Education and Training Command, which has not been completed or released yet, the Navy said. That separate investigation is likely to be the vehicle for any future accountability action if it proves warranted, a US military official said.

Mullen coughed up what classmates described as “phlegm,” “phlegm” and “dark-colored fluid” on the penultimate day and last morning of Hell Week, according to interviews included in the Navy’s investigation.

Hell Week is a five-day intense training exercise designed to “expose candidates to extreme stress in a controlled environment,” according to a Hell Week Validation Report included in the study. Hell Week is part of a 56-week training program that candidates must complete to become Navy SEALs.

During the five-day exercise, candidates are “only allotted two 2-hour sleep periods,” said an interview included in the study.

“For the students, it seems like chaos, on purpose,” said an interview included in the study. “It replicates the confusion and conditions in the field during war.”

Candidates participating in Hell Week are medically evaluated daily by a member of the Naval Special Warfare Center Medical to determine if they are fit to continue training. During training, Basic Training Command medical personnel are in the field with candidates and instructors to respond to any medical emergencies or problems.

While follow-up between Basic Training Command staff and Naval Special Warfare Center Medical was not “typical or standardized” before Mullen’s death, “it is now,” a Naval Special Warfare Center medical officer said in an interview included in the study.

Mullen appeared in good health and completed the training successfully, according to multiple interviews with other classmates, instructors and medical personnel included in the investigation, until Thursday, February 3, the penultimate day of training.

Several classmates interviewed said they observed Mullen coughing up fluid Thursday. One classmate described the liquid as “dark in color,” another described Mullen “spitting up orange stuff” and noted he had a “very deep” cough, interviews in the investigation said. A Basic Training Command employee treated Mullen for knee pain Thursday, but no breathing problems were noted, the member said in an interview.

On the morning of Feb. 4, hours from completing the training, Mullen “reported himself for breathing problems,” a Basic Training Command employee said. Mullen was given oxygen twice on the morning of February 4, once at 6:53 and once at 8:16 a.m., according to the 24-hour Hell Week medical observation log included in the study.

“There is no written policy requiring Naval Special Warfare Center Medical to be contacted if a student is being treated with oxygen,” a Basic Training Command employee said in an interview included in the study.

Center Medical “should have known” that Mullen was receiving oxygen that morning, said a Naval Special Warfare Center doctor interviewed for the investigation. “It may have warranted a chest X-ray,” the doctor said.

Mullen returned to training between the two instances of receiving oxygen. After receiving oxygen a second time, Mullen was transported to where the rest of the graduates completed Hell Week by ambulance, said a paramedic who treated Mullen from Basic Training Command that morning.

Mullen completed and passed the Naval Special Warfare Center Medical after he completed Hell Week. He was moved from the classroom where he was being briefed with his classmates to the barracks in a wheelchair because of the extreme swelling he experienced, said several interviews included in the investigation.

One of his classmates described Mullen as “looking like the ‘Michelin Man’ because he was super bloated at the last medical checkup,” an interview included in the study said.

A classmate of Mullen’s said that while Mullen passed the medical exam successfully, “he was still coughing up fluid when he got to the classroom” where they were all debriefed after practice ended.

Another classmate observed Mullen sitting in the classroom with a Gatorade bottle “between his legs and spitting bloody mucus into it,” an interview included in the investigation said.

Ten classmates who completed the Hell Week training with Mullen noted that he was coughing up mucus and discolored fluid from Thursday to Friday morning when the training was finished, according to interviews included in the report.

After completing the training, Mullen returned to the barracks to rest with his classmates. He was observed by candidates waiting to train students at the command, or CATS, assigned to watch over the candidates and help them recover. They are not medically trained.

One of the people who helped monitor the candidates said he “could tell that Mullen would need constant monitoring and assistance because of his observation that Mullen appeared to be coughing and spitting up blood in a Gatorade bottle,” an interview with the person said. .

One of the observers called the doctor on duty at 2:35 p.m. on Feb. 4, according to the protocol outlined at the end of Hell Week, and said Mullen was “unable to eat without vomiting and was coughing and spitting up fluids,” the investigation said. . The on-call doctor advised the person to call 911.

Graduates are not encouraged to call 911 after completing training because “from the perspective of medical staff and graduates, outside medical personnel are not familiar with the physical effects of the extreme training graduates undergo,” the study said. If candidates go to hospital and are misdiagnosed or diagnosed with something that disqualifies them, they risk being medically disqualified from the program.

On a copy of the post-Hell Week student brief included in the study, No. 11 says, “DO NOT go see other/outside doctors. We will see you at any time (if it’s a true 911 emergency call) … IF YOU GO TO SEE OTHER MEDICAL PERSONNEL WHO DON’T UNDERSTAND HELL WEEK, THEY MAY ADMIT YOU TO THE HOSPITAL OR GIVE YOU MEDICATION THAT IS NOT COMPATIBLE WITH EXERCISE.”

One of the observers who cared for Mullen “recalled that someone told him it was Mullen’s choice to go to the doctor. Mullen told two people ‘no, he didn’t want to go to the doctor,'” said an interview with a of the observers in the study.

Mullen’s condition continued to deteriorate. Between At 3.50pm and 4.09pm, “The mole was seen ‘gasping for air’ and appeared to be ‘super bloated’ or ‘bloated’ with bluish colored skin and fluids coming out of the mouth of his mouth,” the inquest said.

At 4:03 p.m., the officer in charge called the on-call doctor again, who told him to call 911. The federal fire department received a call at 4 p.m. 16.09 and arrived 15 minutes later. Mullen was unresponsive when they arrived, the investigation said.

Mullen stopped breathing five minutes before Emergency Medical Services showed up, one of the people who observed him said in an interview.

Mullen was then transported to the nearest hospital and was pronounced dead at 5:35 p.m

Since Mullen’s death, the Navy has enacted several changes, including adding advanced cardiology screening for Navy SEAL candidates, including proactive pneumonia prevention training by giving candidates an injection of Bicillin prior to BUD/S and expanding medical staff to observe candidates, who have completed the training for 24 hours after Hell Week ends, according to the Navy.

There is also now a “mandatory, formal turnover” between Basic Training Command Medical and NSW Central Medical to “discuss the medical status of candidates,” the Navy said.

No changes have been implemented in the Hell Week training itself.

Although no drugs were found in Mullen’s system, according to the autopsy, Mullen’s death has sparked concerns about candidates’ use of performance-enhancing drugs to push themselves physically in the program.

One of the changes the Navy has adopted since Mullen’s death includes “medically safe to train” PED testing “through urine tests” for candidates, the Navy said. The Navy is also working on an “exception to policy” to expand the authority to test candidates for PEDs to help “understand the extent of PED use within the force and discourage unauthorized PED use,” the Navy added.

Rear Admiral Keith Davids, commander of the Naval Special Warfare Command, which oversees the SEALs and their training, sent a memo to his command on Oct. 4 after news articles about Mullen’s death and other issues within the SEALs were published, reminding everyone in the command. to “create a culture of accountability.” CNN obtained a copy of the memo.

“We must continually self-assess and self-correct so that we identify problems before they grow into larger, systemic problems. I expect everyone in our community to create a culture of accountability and assess and use the tools at your disposal to maintain good order, discipline and mission success,” the memo reads.

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