No response after a year
MANALAPAN, NJ – A Manalapan High School football helmet rests on a dresser. A set of military fatigues hangs from a hanger. Photos are everywhere, including a large portrait of the burly young man who has gone to serve his country in the Navy.
This is Kyle Mullen’s bedroom. A year ago, on February 4, the 24-year-old died hours after completing the grueling “week from hell” portion of Navy SEALs training.
A year has passed and the Navy has not completed its investigation into the chain of command failure that left Mullen, a standout college football player at Yale and Monmouth universities, without medical care while he coughed up enough blood and fluid to fill a 36-ounce bottle.
The delay has exacerbated the grief of Regina Mullen, Kyle’s mother, whose crusade for answers – and reform – has led to a flood of contacts from mothers of SEAL candidates sharing their own anguished stories with her. The weight of it all has Regina wandering around Kyle’s room in the early morning, staring at the photos, wondering if an honest reckoning will ever take place.
“What’s taking so long?” ” she says. ” They do not care. I’m really disgusted and worried about (other) men. It keeps me up at night.
‘I have to go to the hospital’:Former SEAL candidate describes his own Hell Week in the wake of his death
“It seems to be extraordinarily egregious”
A Navy autopsy cited Kyle Mullen’s cause of death as untreated pneumonia.
“This sailor had completed the week in hell and was being cared for by non-medical personnel to help meet his basic needs,” the autopsy read. “He was in a wheelchair most of the time, unable to stand and walk on his own.”
He added: He allegedly coughed up/spit up a red-tinted liquid that almost filled a 36 oz. sports drink bottle.
A separate Navy investigation concluded that Mullen died “in the line of duty,” meaning there was no fault on his part.
But the burning question — why medical personnel on site during SEAL training were sent home when Mullen was clearly struggling — remains unanswered. This is the heart of the chain of command investigation, the completion of which continues to be delayed.
Since mid-summer, Regina has periodically been told by Navy officials that it was nearly over. At some point, they scheduled a briefing with her, only to cancel the day before.
‘Just mad’:Kyle Mullen’s mother calls out silence and mistakes after Navy SEALs deaths Hell Week
All that is known is that three officers received reprimands, including Capt. Brad Geary, the commanding officer in charge of Mullen’s SEAL training. In the spring, Geary was reassigned from his position as commander of Naval Special Warfare Basic Training Command.
Michael Detzky, a Freehold-based attorney who served 30 years in the Navy, is an expert in military law and has followed the case. While serving, he was a Judge Advocate General (a military attorney, known as JAG) and retired as a captain of the JAG Corps. In an interview with Asbury Park Press, part of the USA TODAY Network, Detzky said he wasn’t surprised the chain of command investigation took so long.
“Quite frankly, I’m sure people are trying to cover their butts,” he said.
Regina Mullen requested that Geary be court-martialed and dishonorable discharged.
“There’s a saying in the navy: the commandant (commander) is responsible for anything that comes out under his watch,” Detzky said. “That’s how it is. You can have the captain of the ship sleep in his cabin, and if a junior office runs the ship aground, that’s the captain’s responsibility. The same for this unit (Navy SEALs).
Based on his reading of the facts, Detzky said, “It seems extraordinarily egregious, that (Mullen) did not receive the medical attention he needed.”
He added, “Of course, SEALs have to be able to weather harsh and inhospitable conditions and be able to withstand much more than the average military, but they are not supermen.”
‘My hero’:Manalapan’s mother honors son Kyle Mullen at funeral after Navy SEAL training death
Calls for reform
Overall, Regina Mullen seeks to reform the “Hell Week” process. Last summer, it was amended to provide applicants with a 24-hour period of supervision by medical staff at the end of the week.
“It’s a start, but I want to know what their protocols are,” she said. “What if they don’t follow them?”
Regina Mullen, who is a registered nurse, wants to see a wider safety net.
“They still don’t use stethoscopes to check their lungs,” she said. “They shouldn’t have to ring the bell (the only way candidates can receive medical attention, an act that usually ends their SEAL candidacy). They shouldn’t have to ask. After five days without sleep, these guys are delirious. Yes, you need to be exposed to the elements and conditions, but not so exposed that you torture people, kill people, or inflict permanent injury.
She won the support of two New Jersey members of the House of Representatives – Republican Chris Smith and Democrat Andy Kim. Smith authored an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act of 2023 titled “Kyle Mullen Naval Safety Enhancements,” which directs the Secretary of Defense to oversee SEAL training and better provide security sailors.
At Regina Mullen’s request, Kim requested an independent investigation into her son’s death by the Department of Defense; he was told that would have to wait until the Navy’s investigation was complete.
Death of Kyle Mullen:NJ Congressmen denounce 7-month ‘debacle’ investigating Navy SEALs training death of Manalapan man
Regina Mullen also called on Congress to adjust the Feres Doctrine, which prohibits service members from suing the federal government for injuries in the line of duty — and prohibits family members of service members killed from suing for wrongful death.
“I get the idea,” she said. “But it was designed for combat.”
On January 26, Regina Mullen received an email from Lt. Cmdr. Amanda Dattaro of the Navy’s personnel department said the report on the Navy’s chain of command investigation is still being finalized, with several steps remaining.
“I know this is not the news you hope to hear, but the report is now undergoing interim review to ensure a thorough and complete investigation,” Dattaro wrote in the email, which was obtained by Asbury Park Press.
Upon completion, Dattaro added, “The Navy will prepare to provide you with a briefing on their findings and will prepare a redacted copy of the report to leave with you after the briefing. I will contact you as soon as we have a better schedule to plan this with you.
Meanwhile, an open wound festers.
“This delay makes the situation worse,” Regina said.
“I never held anyone responsible”:Kyle Mullen’s Mom Fear No Change From Navy SEALs Hell Week
Detzky, Freehold’s attorney and former JAG, said he would advise Regina to continue to exert public pressure.
“They can’t just sweep this under the rug,” he said.
Regina Mullen thinks that’s exactly what’s going to happen, which is why she’s making so much noise and losing so much sleep.
“It’s going to kill me,” she said.
Contact Jerry Carino at firstname.lastname@example.org.