Navy officer denies scathing report in case of recruit death after ‘Hell Week’

Mr Geary claims a report released by the Navy mischaracterised his feelings towards SEAL candidates

Graig Graziosi
Monday 05 June 2023 20:23 BST
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Related video: New video reveals what Navy SEALs ‘Hell Week’ looks like

The US Naval officer in command of a 24-year-old SEAL candidate who died after the program's notorious "Hell Week" training spoke out this week, railing against a scathing report probing the incident.

Captain Brad Geary learned on 4 February 2022 that one of his SEAL candidates, Seaman Kyle Mullen, 24, had died after the Hell Week training.

Hell Week is the third week of Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL training, commonly called BUD/S. It is the first step for all Navy SEAL candidates seeking a spot in the elite special operations unit.

Mr Geary spoke for the first time since the candidate's death, in an interview with The New York Post.

“I’ll never be able to take that weight off my shoulders,” he said. “I’ve lost many teammates in my career, unfortunately. Too many. But this was the first one under my command.”

Mr Mullen was found by his fellow trainees in his room, unresponsive and blue in the face. He was taken for treatment at a hospital where he was pronounced dead.

An autopsy determined that the young sailor died due to a combination of pneumonia and swimming-induced pulmonary edema. The latter is a common condition for SEAL trainees, whose extended exposure to frigid Pacific waters causes fluid to fill their lungs.

Mr Mullen made it through Hell Week — during which SEAL candidates are only allowed to sleep four hours each night, must run more than 200 miles, and swim in the extremely cold waters of the Pacific Ocean off the coast of San Diego. They train continuously for 20 hours a day during the five-day stretch.

Candidate dropouts have become more common in recent years, according to Mr Geary, and he set out to determine why. He consulted with experts and academics, who found a number of contributing reasons for the drop outs; the coronavirus pandemic and "generational shifts" were both included as causes.

He brought his concerns to the Navy, but said his warnings fell on deaf ears.

“Nobody really wanted to hear our message until after Kyle Mullen died,” he said. “We beat that drum incessantly and it really did not resonate.”

Despite Mr Geary's concerns, the report issued by the Navy suggested he simply believes today's SEAL candidates simply couldn't cut it where previous generations had.

“Capt. Geary maintained a view that the high attrition was caused, among other reasons, by the current generation having less mental resilience, or being less tough,” the report said.

US Navy Captain Brad Geary
US Navy Captain Brad Geary (US Navy)

Mr Geary was incensed by the report, and denied ever making such claims, saying they run contrary to his personal leadership philosophy.

“One of the things that was misstated in that report was this notion that I somehow blamed the next generation for being mentally weak, which is what resulted in the attrition,” Mr Geary said. “Those were not my words. I never said that. Those closest to me in my command would say I never said that.”

He called the alleged mischaracterisation "flippant and irresponsible and just not true."

The officer said he refused to participate in generational warfare discussions and insisted that this generation of SEAL candidates was plenty tough.

“It’s very easy to say, ‘Well, damn the next generation’ and make fun of them … [but] I’ve reinforced this throughout my entire time as commanding officer: It’s on us as leaders to adjust to the next generation,” he said. “It’s not enough to say ‘You have to be like us and we expect you to perform like we did.’”

True to Mr Geary's words, the report found that it was Mr Mullen's refusal to quit that ultimately led to his death. It noted that he had turned down multiple offers from officers to receive medical treatment after he was found coughing up blood and fluids during Hell Week. He even denigrated himself, saying he was "such a p****" because he was struggling to breathe on the day he died.

“[Mullen], intent on doing everything possible to complete the pipeline, was at increased risk of serious injury during Hell Week conditions of extreme fatigue and environmental exposure, with decreased ability to compensate and recover from such injuries,” the report said.

The report suggested Mr Geary and his team had fostered an environment that discourages SEAL candidates from seeking medical attention, and that he and his trainers were pushing more extreme training on the young cadets.

He has rejected those claims, calling the findings "disappointing."

Kyle Mullen was confirmed to have died during ‘Hell Week’.
Kyle Mullen was confirmed to have died during ‘Hell Week’. (Monmouth Hawks)

“Our cadre deserved to be trusted and the American people deserve to know that they can trust the SEAL community, and it’s frustrating to me that [the report] unjustly undermines that trust,” he said.

Mr Geary's attorney, Jason Wareham, criticised the investigation, saying the Navy mishandled the probe and accusing it of "wrongfully" discrediting his client "through twisted quotes misconstructions, and mishandling of evidence that has existed since the start."

He said that an Army coroner failed to test Mr Mullen for performance-enhancing drugs in his system, despite syringes with human growth hormone and testosterone being found in Mr Mullen's car after his death.

Mr Geary was formally reprimanded by the Navy but allowed to continue his service. Despite that, he believes his career has likely hit a wall due to the way he was depicted in the report. He insists he was mischaracterised.

“I genuinely love everyone that is entrusted to my care as a leader, and as the commanding officer of [the SEAL training program,] I loved my candidates,” Mr Geary said. “I loved Kyle Mullen; I grieved his loss and still do. I will carry that weight with me forever.”

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