“I’m sitting in this chair because I’m not proud anymore to be in the community because of the direction that it’s going,” a Navy SEAL told CBS News in an investigative report Tuesday night.
The individual, whose name, face, and voice were altered to maintain his anonymity, is one of three SEALs who spoke on camera about a growing drug-abuse problem within this special operations community.
“People that we know of, that we hear about have tested positive for cocaine, methamphetamine, heroin, marijuana, ecstasy,” said another one of the SEALs. All three had their identities protected during the interview to prevent retribution.
In response to the “growing” drug problem, Capt. Milton “Jamie” Sands, the commodore of Naval Special Warfare Group Two in Virginia Beach, halted all training and held a mandatory all-hands meeting in December, CBS New reported.
In a video released to CBS News by the Navy, Sands is seen addressing the assembled troops. “I feel betrayed,” he says. “How do you do that to us? How do you decide that it’s okay for you to do drugs?”
“I feel like I’m watching our foundation, our culture erode in front of our eyes,” Sands adds.
According to the CBS New report, five SEALs had been removed from teams for drug abuse during the first three months of Sands’ tenure. More from CBS:
Before Sands spoke, his chief of staff rattled off what he called a “staggering” number of drug cases which he said showed that the Navy’s Special Operations had a higher incidence of drug use than the rest of the fleet.
“It’s a population that is supposed to be elite performers, all with classifications, to where they have national security information and responsibilities,” a SEAL told CBS News. “That’s dangerous to my teammates.”
Another one said that “if we need your ability, I don’t need to be in the back of my mind thinking that, OK, can I really trust this guy? Is he 100 percent going to cover my back?”
Adm. Timothy Szymanski, head of the Naval Special Warfare Command, agrees, telling CBS News in a statement “anything above zero represents a disturbing trend for this elite force.”
When reached by phone, Naval Special Warfare Command spokesman Capt. Jason Salata vehemently denied the allegations of widespread drug abuse leveled by CBS News.
“We provided [CBS News] with loads of data that refutes what they’re claiming,” Salata told Task & Purpose. “I stand against their assertion that our incidence of drug use is higher than the Navy average. We test 15% of our force every month, and based on recent urinalysis testing, we’re well below.”
Salata told Task & Purpose that in November 2016, the Navy conducted a “no-notice sweep” of all 6,364 Naval Special Warfare units returning to their posts from Thanksgiving — a sweep that returned only seven positives for drug use.
According to data provided by Salata, the Navy collected 71,436 urinalysis samples force-wide for testing between August 2014 and February 2017. Of those samples, drug laboratories found 186 samples that tested positive for drugs — a 0.2% occurrence rate, mostly for cocaine and marijuana.
“I think [CBS News] missed some key elements, and not just our leadership’s firm intolerance for drug use,” added Salata. “They ignored the data we provided them.”
This is not the first time Naval Special Warfare Group Two has made headlines this year. The same unit garnered nationwide attention in January after footage emerged of a SEAL convoy driving along a Kentucky highway with a Trump flag affixed to one of the vehicles.
The unit endured “teamwide remedial training on safe convoy operations and partisan political activity” as punishment, according to the Herald-Leader.
Task & Purpose will continue to report on this story as more information becomes available.
You can watch CBS News’ full report below.