Death in ‘week from hell’ highlights danger of Navy SEAL screening courses

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  • A Navy SEAL candidate has died after completing “Hell Week” of the selection course in early February.
  • The Navy has procedures for medical emergencies, but deaths during SEAL training are not unheard of.
  • The risks involved in their training reflect the danger of the missions assigned to them, current and former SEALs say.

On February 4, U.S. Navy Seaman Kyle Mullen died after completing “Hell Week,” a notoriously difficult part of training for U.S. Navy SEAL candidates. Another candidate was hospitalized the same day.

In a press release, Naval Special Warfare Command said Mullen and his Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL (BUD/S) classmates had successfully completed Hell Week earlier today and that he “doesn’t was not actively coaching at the time of his death”.

The command said Mullen’s cause of death is unknown and an investigation is ongoing. This unfortunate event highlights once again the dangers inherent in special operations, where the risk of death or serious injury is present both on the battlefield and in training.

death week in hell

Navy SEAL candidates participate in an exercise during

Navy SEAL candidates during a Hell Week exercise.

Richard Schoenberg/Corbis via Getty Images


Hell Week is probably the most well-known part of any Special Ops training regimen in the world.

The six-day event, starting on Sunday evening and ending on Friday morning, usually takes place at the end of the first phase of BUD/S. During this time, students’ physical and mental endurance is rigorously tested with races totaling over 200 miles, hours of physical training, and swims in the freezing Pacific waters.

During all BUD/S evolutions, there is an ambulance on standby near the students in case of a medical emergency. Navy SEAL corpsmen are ready to provide medical assistance if needed. Insider understands that instructors and staff work closely together and that students go through medical checkups every day during Hell Week.

“All instructors are fully trained in risk and injury prevention during the week from hell. There are medical personnel present 24 hours a day and doctors periodically perform full body exams to assess


pneumonia

infected cuts and signs of illness,” Bob Adams, a retired Navy SEAL officer and physician, told Insider.

After 12 years on SEAL Teams, Adams went to medical school and became an Army physician and eventually command surgeon for the Army’s elite Delta Force. Adam’s details the incredible strains Hell Week places on the body in his 2017 book, “Six Days of Impossible: Navy SEAL Hell Week – A Doctor Looks Back.”

navy seal hell week

BUD/S students train with logs during Hell Week, in Coronado, June 22, 2003.

Document/Getty



Hell Week can leave lasting effects on those who go through it, Adams said.

“What interests me the most as a doctor is that our core body temperature has sometimes dropped below 90 degrees (98.6 is normal)and now many years later we all have lower than normal body temperatures,” Adams added. “This is important because our brain (the hypothalamus) has been permanently reset to a lower ‘normal’, and when exercising or even sleeping our sweat is greater than others as the body tries to cool down to the new set point.”

Navy SEAL students are built to overcome adversity and push through, often through thick and thin.

“It’s in the BUD/S mentality to ‘suck up the pain’ and move on. Students are encouraged, and often forced by the realities of the training regimen, to hide or deal with their injuries during their training “, a former Navy SEAL officer told Insider.

They weren’t ‘life-threatening injuries,’ the former officer said, ‘but pneumonia, broken legs, ankles, broken hands, what do you have, are happening, and training doesn’t doesn’t stop because of them, so students who don’t want to be rolled back and repeat training, you have to go all the way.”

A dangerous profession

Navy SEAL BUD/S Hell Week

SEAL candidates during BUD/S training in Coronado, Jan. 23, 2018.

US Navy/PO1 Abe McNatt


The risks don’t stop at Hell Week. In the second phase, students spend most of their time in the pool learning the basics of combat diving.

It’s a stressful time. The “Pool Competence” event at the end of the second phase usually causes several students in each class to start over or drop out. Shallow water blackouts are common throughout the second phase. In the third phase, students learn to handle live ammunition and explosives while deprived of sleep.

“You will be colder, hungrier and more tired in the [SEAL] Teams than in BUD/S – way more,” a former enlisted Navy SEAL told Insider.

“Students will hear this a lot during training, but you don’t really believe it – how can you imagine being any colder when you’ve just spent 10 minutes in the freezing Pacific in the middle of the night and literally have to spread warm up a bit? But it is true and correct. Life in the [SEAL] Teams sucks way more than BUD/S,” the former enlisted SEAL said.

This is the second fatal training incident for the Naval Special Warfare community in four months. In November, Cmdr. Brian Bourgeois, commanding officer of SEAL Team 8, died from injuries he sustained during a nighttime fast-rope drill in Virginia Beach.

For the Navy SEAL community, deaths in training are not common, but they are not uncommon.

“At the end of the day, it’s a dangerous profession. Training for it is dangerous and doing it is dangerous, and they’re dangerous because the demands and the missions are high,” the former SEAL officer said.

SEALs are the dedicated maritime component of U.S. Special Operations Command and are those called upon in maritime emergencies, the officer added. “There is no room for error or failure downstream, so training has to be tough.”

Stavros Atlamazoglou is a defense journalist specializing in special operations, a veteran of the Hellenic Army (national service with the 575th Marine Battalion and Army HQ) and a graduate of Johns Hopkins University.

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