April 19, 2024

The Naval Special Warfare Command that oversees the Navy SEAL BUD/S training program intends to take disciplinary action against three top officers who were in leadership roles during the death of a SEAL trainee last year, according to the service.

A Navy official confirmed to Military.com that Capt. Brian Drechsler, Capt. Bradley Geary and Cmdr. Erik Ramey were notified that the service intends to take them to admiral’s mast — a nonjudicial form of punishment — over their roles in the death.

SEAL candidate Kyle Mullen, 24, died of acute pneumonia shortly after completing the first, brutal portion of SEAL training known as “Hell Week” on Feb. 4, 2022. At the time, Drechsler was the Naval Special Warfare Center’s commanding officer, Geary was in charge of the Basic Training Command, and Ramey was the command’s top medical official.

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Rolling Stone was the first outlet to report the development and, according to its sources, the trio face charges of negligent dereliction of duty.

The three officers had all previously received nonpunitive letters of reprimand over the incident. While the letters themselves carry no punishment, they typically render an officer unpromotable. Drechsler also left his post as commander of the Naval Special Warfare Center ahead of schedule.

Geary’s lawyer, Jason Wareham, confirmed that his client is facing mast in an email to Military.com and said that the officer “is disappointed by his command’s decisions” and that they are assessing the “dubious legal and factual basis for this [mast].”

The Navy, through a spokesman, has confirmed, broadly, that Naval Special Warfare Command “has decided to proceed with accountability actions for certain individuals.”

The spokesman added that “as the actions are ongoing, it would be inappropriate to comment further on any specific or potential accountability actions until they are completed.”

Military.com reached out to the lawyers for Ramey and Drechsler but did not receive a reply from either in time for publication.

Since masts like the ones these three officers are facing are nonjudicial punishments — they don’t involve many due-process protections or a jury — service members have the right to refuse them.

If a service member refuses a mast, it leaves commanders with the option of either dropping the charges or referring them to a formal court-martial. The latter would be a formal legal proceeding that would afford any of the officers more latitude in defending themselves, but it would also be a far more public and lengthy affair.

Mullen’s death was investigated twice by the Navy. The first investigation was conducted by Naval Special Warfare Command itself and revealed major problems at the legendary training program.

Investigators found that recruits were not given adequate medical care and the course fostered a culture where seeking help in emergency situations was discouraged.

One sailor told investigators that “he and the other students were instructed not to call 911 and not to go to the emergency room.”

The investigation determined that Mullen died of pneumonia but that his condition was aggravated by an enlarged heart.

A second investigation, this time conducted by a Navy command that was completely separate from the SEAL community, revealed even more troubling issues with the culture at the Coronado, California, schoolhouse.

That investigation found that the staff at the training facility was overzealous and ran largely unchecked, while students were so determined to pass that they would either lie to doctors or turn to doping.

The report noted that after Mullen’s death, the investigators found a stash of performance-enhancing drugs in his car, including testosterone and human growth hormone, but it stopped short of saying he had used the substances because his blood and urine were unable to be tested for them.

Geary’s leadership was highlighted by investigators since he had been made aware of problems with the program that were leading more recruits than usual being dropped from the course.

According to investigators, at the time he largely chalked it up to the fact that “the current generation had less mental toughness.”

The report also noted that Geary made a deliberate decision to reduce the role of the school’s civilian instructors — veteran SEALs put in place to be a check on the less experienced and sometimes overzealous active-duty instructors.

In the wake of the report, Geary went public with his version of events and criticism of the investigation, giving interviews to “Good Morning America”, Fox News and The New York Post, among others.

Geary told “Good Morning America” that Mullen’s death was “a perfect storm of factors” and that he didn’t feel responsible for it.

“What I feel responsible for is speaking truth to ensure that it never happens again,” Geary told “Good Morning America.”

In a later interview with Fox News, Geary and Wareham pointed to Mullen’s enlarged heart as a detail that was not known to him and his staff. “Because they didn’t have reasonable notice, they couldn’t act to protect Seaman Mullens [sic], even from himself,” Wareham told Laura Ingraham in a TV interview.

Meanwhile, Wareham told Military.com that “the Navy’s decision to proceed with nonjudicial punishment lacks a foundation in credible evidence and appears to be motivated primarily by political expediency.”

“When all the key facts emerge, the Navy’s improper actions will be exposed — and it will be undeniable that Capt. Geary is being scapegoated as part of a larger scheme to cover up massive failures and abuses of power at the highest levels of the Navy,” the lawyer said.

— Konstantin Toropin can be reached at konstantin.toropin@military.com. Follow him on Twitter @ktoropin.

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