Three senior Navy SEAL officers will face an Admiral’s mast for dereliction of duty over the death of Kyle Mullen, a SEAL candidate who died during BUD/S at the end of the infamous “Hell Week” in February 2022.
The three officers face charges of negligent dereliction of duty. Each held senior leadership positions at the Naval Special Warfare Center in Coronado, California, when Mullen Died.
Mullen died hours after completing the most grueling stretch of the infamous Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL training course, or BUD/S, in February 2022, a five-day grind of relentless physical tests known as “Hell Week.”
A New Jersey native and former college football player, Mullen died within hours of finishing Hell Week. A Navy investigation determined that medical personnel failed to treat pneumonia he’d developed over the week-long event. Investigators determined that that deadly mistake by medics emerged from cultural and command deficiencies at the Naval Special Warfare Center and BUD/S.
The three men are:
- Capt. Brian Drechsler, the NSW Center’s commanding officer at the time of Mullen’s death. The Center is the hub of the Navy’s special warfare training. Drechsler had been scheduled to leave that post in late 2022, but his departure was moved up to May 2022 after Mullen’s death.
- Capt. Bradley Geary, who commanded the Center’s Basic Training Command, which directly oversees BUD/S.
- Cmdr. Erk Ramey, a Navy radiologist who oversaw medical operations as the Center’s top medical doctor.
The mast will be convened by Rear Adm. Keith B. Davids, the commander of Naval Special Warfare Command.
Rolling Stone first reported Thursday that the three officers would face the Admiral’s mast. Task & Purpose confirmed the three officers were served with notice of the mast last week and have until sometime next week to decide whether or not to accept it.
Task and Purpose reported in June that the investigation that led to charges found that leadership at BUD/S and the Center allowed “complacency and insufficient attentiveness” to creep into the school and its staff, which led to Mullen’s condition worsening despite multiple medical checks and warning signs.
The report found that medical teams that oversaw the rigorous early phases of BUD/S training — and particularly Hell Week — were unprepared for the high levels of sickness and injuries the training routinely produces. Medics, the report said, were “poorly organized, poorly integrated and poorly led.”
In the training itself, the report found, SEAL instructors were “hunting the back of the pack,” picking off students they deemed too slow or weak. And those instructors believed they were acting on their boss’s orders, or at least had tacit approval.
The three officers can now accept to have their charges settled by the Admiral’s mast, which is adjudicated without a jury or lawyers. They can also refuse the mast and instead face a court martial.
An Admiral’s mast is a non-judicial punishment process in which a commander reviews charges against subordinates and hands down a variety of punishments, from minor rebukes to major career-affecting reprimands like loss of rank. Punishment from a mast cannot include dismissal from the Navy or extended confinement, though Navy officials can use the results of a mast to open further inquiries that could lead to expulsion from service.
Lawyers for both Ramey and Geary told Task and Purpose Thursday that their clients were reviewing the charges and documents provided by the Navy before deciding how to proceed.
Mullen’s mother, Regina Mullen, has hounded the Navy since her son’s death, insisting in media interviews and meetings with lawmakers that the culture at BUD/S had grown unaccountable and rife with hazing, steroid abuse, and poor leadership. Rolling Stone reported Thursday that several of Mullen’s classmates who failed out of the course said they had personally been or had witnessed brutal hazing, often encouraged by instructors.
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Regina Mullen told Task and Purpose Friday that the Admiral’s masts for the three officers was not a full accounting, but “I wanted something to happen.”
Notably absent from the list, she said, was now-retired Rear Admiral Hugh Howard, the commanding officer of NSW Command when Mullen died.
“I want Admiral Howard to be court-martialed up front, but that can only happen from either the Secretary of the Navy or the [Chief of Naval Operations],” she said.
She also wonders why the Admiral’s mast was being handled within NSW Command by Howard’s successor rather than by an outside command. The investigation that uncovered the issues at BUD/S was produced by officials in the Navy’s training command, who had no relationship with NSW or the SEALs.
“They couldn’t investigate themselves, and now they’re supposed to charge themselves? Right,” she said. “In any normal mind, that’s so ridiculous. But it’s still the process apparently.”
Having the three officers face an Admiral’s mast, she said, was not the level of accountability she hoped to see but did sidestep the risk of a Court Martial ending in no action at all.
“It’s a jury of their own peers, and it’s out in California, and they’ll find a loophole and get fancy lawyers and get off,” Mullen told Task and Purpose. “And I didn’t want that to happen. Also, Geary is a father. As a mother myself, I cannot put children through that. That doesn’t bring my son back alive if he went to jail or put their entire family through that.”
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