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Navy Seals lighten up training after recruit's death

KNX 1070 News Radio Los Angeles logo KNX 1070 News Radio Los Angeles 12/8/2022 Stephanie Raymond
Navy SEALs students participate in Log PT (physical training) during © Provided by KNX 1070 News Radio Los Angeles Navy SEALs students participate in Log PT (physical training) during

Navy SEALs have modified their grueling basic training program after one trainee died and another was hospitalized in San Diego after completing what is known as "Hell Week" earlier this year.

Back in February, naval officials said two SEAL trainees were transported to a hospital "several hours after their Basic Underwater Demolition SEAL (BUD/S) class successfully completed Hell Week, part of the first phase of Navy SEAL assessment and selection pathway."

One trainee, 24-year-old Kyle Mullen of Manalapan, New Jersey, later died at Sharp Coronado Hospital in Coronado. The other was reported to be in stable condition at Naval Medical Center in San Diego.

According to the Armed Forces Medical Examiner's autopsy report released in October, Mullen died of acute pneumonia with cardiomegaly (an enlarged heart) as a contributing factor. Although Mullen was not actively training at the time of his death, the Naval Special Warfare Command concluded Mullen's death was in the line of duty and not due to his own misconduct.

Reports indicated that performance-enhancing drugs — testosterone, Anastrobol and sildenafil — were found in Mullen's belongings. However, Navy officials noted that PEDs were not a contributing cause of Mullen's death.

The day before Mullen died, he was observed coughing up mucus and discolored fluid and had a very deep cough, according to a report obtained by CNN. The next morning, he received oxygen twice but continued with the training and passed a medical check. During a briefing after completing the training, Mullen was put in a wheelchair due to extreme swelling he was experiencing, per the report.

After returning to the barracks on Feb. 4, one of the people watching over the recruits called a medical officer and noted that Mullen was "unable to eat without vomiting and was coughing and spitting up fluids," CNN reported. The medical officer advised the person to call 911 -- but they never did.

Roughly two hours later, "Mullen was seen 'gasping for air' and appeared to be 'super swollen' or ‘bloated,' with blueish-colored skin and fluids coming out of his mouth," according to the report. At that point, 911 was called and first responders arrived about 15 minutes later -- but Mullen was unresponsive. He was taken to the hospital and died shortly thereafter.

Following an investigation into Mullen's death, the Navy closely examined all aspects of its training programs, including "the institution of a cardiac screening program; increased prevention measures for pneumonia; the extension of the observation period for 24 hours post securing both BUD/S Phase 1 Assessment and Selection crucible events; and medically safe-to-train performance enhancing drugs (“PED”) testing through urine tests."

The Navy's Special Warfare Command also reprimanded three officers in connection with Mullen's death, the Associated Press reported.

"Kyle's death will not be in vain," Commander, Naval Special Warfare Command, Rear Adm. Keith Davids said in a statement. "We have a moral obligation to learn everything we can from Kyle's tragic death so that we can ensure the safety of all future candidates."

The intense physical and mental conditioning it takes to become a SEAL begins at BUD/S training. During this six-month mind and body obstacle course, recruits are pushed to their physical and mental limits. The first phase is the eight-week basic conditioning phase involving physical training like running, swimming and calisthenics, all of which become increasingly difficult as the weeks progress.

The fourth week of training, "Hell Week," is five-and-a-half days of continuous high intensity training exercises coupled with sleep deprivation. The week is designed to push recruits to their maximum capability, both physically and mentally. Only about one in five trainees make it through the process, according to Navy officials. As many as 17 SEALS who made it through Hell Week died in training accidents over the last 20 years, NBC News reported.

The remaining weeks are spent in hydrographic reconnaissance and basic maritime training.

Additional changes in place following Mullen's death include inoculating recruits with antibiotics before they start BUD/S and more detailed medical screenings before and after the completion of training, NPR reported.

No changes to the Hell Week training itself have been implemented, according to CNN.

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