Navy SEAL training commander speaks out after damning report on ‘shattering’ candidate death

In Washington, Navy Captain Brad Geary, who was on track to become an admiral, received devastating news on February 4, 2022. One of his Navy SEAL candidates was discovered unresponsive hours after successfully completing the rigorous “Hell Week” training program. The news came as a shock to Geary and had a profound impact.

Kyle Mullen, 24, was found unresponsive after completing Navy SEAL’s “Hell Week.”
Facebook/Regina Knaup Mullen

Seaman Kyle Mullen, aged 24, had just completed the grueling phase of the SEALs’ demanding boot camp known for its intense physical challenges. Tragically, his fellow candidates discovered him unresponsive and cyanotic in his room. Despite efforts by medics, he was pronounced dead at a hospital.

In an exclusive interview with The Post this week, Navy Captain Brad Geary expressed his deep sense of responsibility, stating, “I’ll never be able to take that weight off my shoulders. I’ve lost many teammates in my career, unfortunately. Too many. But this was the first one under my command.”

Three months prior to Mullen’s untimely death, Geary had been honored with the Navy’s prestigious Vice Adm. James Bond Stockdale award for his exceptional leadership, recognized as an inspiration to others.

In the aftermath of a comprehensive Navy investigation into the death of Seaman Kyle Mullen, the SEAL officer finds himself under intense scrutiny from the Navy, Congress, and the media. As a result, he has made the decision to retire from the service without achieving the rank of admiral and adding a star to his uniform.

“You’re grieving the death of a dream every day,” said Geary, who is speaking out for the first time since Mullen’s tragic death. “I know by coming forward with the press on this one, I’m committing a cultural faux pas that will put me out of graces with my community, but I have to … I am laying down my career for my cadre of candidates to be their voice and defend them because no one else is.”

Tough enough

An autopsy report unveiled that Mullen’s cause of death was a combination of pneumonia and swimming-induced pulmonary edema, a condition often observed in SEAL candidates due to the accumulation of fluids in the lungs after prolonged exposure to freezing waters.

Despite enduring harsh winter conditions, Mullen persevered through a grueling five-and-a-half-day period where SEAL candidates are granted only four hours of sleep per night. They ran over 200 miles, swam in icy waters, and engaged in more than 20 hours of intense physical training each day.

Following Mullen’s tragic passing, Navy investigators closely examined Geary’s command.

Captain Geary had expressed his concerns about an increasing number of dropouts from the training program he assumed control of in 2020. He made efforts to initiate a study aimed at identifying the underlying causes of this trend.

Navy SEAL candidates participate in “surf immersion” during training.
MC1 Anthony Walker/US Navy via AP

After consulting with experts and academics, Geary discovered several factors contributing to the increasing dropout rates, such as the impact of the coronavirus pandemic and “generational shifts.” However, when he raised his concerns with Navy leadership, he felt that they were disregarded and not given due attention.

“Nobody really wanted to hear our message until after Kyle Mullen died,” he told The Post. “We beat that drum incessantly and it really did not resonate.”

Geary implemented several changes in the program to address attrition, including ensuring a minimum of six hours of sleep before Hell Week and removing heavy rucksacks from early training runs. However, when the 320-page report on Mullen’s death was released, Geary felt unfairly portrayed as an out-of-touch leader who pushed SEAL candidates excessively.

According to the report, Geary was depicted as believing that the high attrition rate was due to the current generation’s lack of mental resilience or toughness. Geary vehemently denied this allegation, stating that he never made such comments and that it goes against his personal leadership philosophy.

“I want to clarify that the report misstated my views. I never blamed the next generation for being mentally weak or linked it to the attrition. Those were not my words, and those who know me well can attest to that,” Geary clarified.

“That’s flippant and irresponsible and just not true.”

Contrary to the report’s depiction, Geary emphasized that he had great confidence in the next generation of SEALs, sharing numerous anecdotes during his two-hour interview with The Post. He also criticized those who label young people as weak, highlighting their resilience and strength.

“It’s very easy to say, ‘Well, damn the next generation’ and make fun of them … [but] I’ve reinforced this throughout my entire time as as commanding officer: It’s on us as leaders to adjust to the next generation,” Geary said. “It’s not enough to say ‘You have to be like us and we expect you to perform like we did.’

“No, no, we need to look for their strengths and look for their weaknesses. Be objectively critical of those and then help them develop what we need them to have for the SEAL teams and the missions that will ask them to do,” he added.

Ironically, Mullen’s relentless determination to persevere played a role in his tragic demise.

Despite experiencing symptoms such as coughing up blood and struggling to breathe, he declined medical assistance and harshly criticized himself.

The report stated that Mullen’s unwavering commitment to completing the training put him at a heightened risk of severe injury, considering the extreme fatigue, environmental exposure, and diminished capacity to recover during Hell Week conditions.


The investigation primarily held Geary and his staff responsible, accusing them of mistreating the aspiring Special Forces candidates while Geary allegedly turned a blind eye. The report further stated that under his leadership, seeking medical help was discouraged, the young SEAL trainers adopted extreme methods, and the input of retired SEAL advisors was disregarded.

Geary vehemently refuted the allegations, expressing his disappointment with the investigation’s findings and defending his team against any wrongdoing.

After Mullen’s death, Navy Capt. Brad Geary was depicted as a barbarian, out-of-touch leader whose cadre of trainers pushed SEAL candidates too hard.
Chief of Naval Operations

“Our cadre deserved to be trusted and the American people deserve to know that they can trust the SEAL community, and it’s frustrating to me that [the report] unjustly undermines that trust,” he said.

His attorney, Jason Wareham, strongly criticized the Navy investigation, claiming that it was mishandled from the beginning and aimed to unjustly discredit his client. Wareham alleged that the investigation relied on twisted quotes, misinterpretations, and mishandling of evidence that has been present since the start of the case.

As an example, Wareham highlighted the failure of the Army coroner to test Mullen for specific performance-enhancing drugs, despite knowing that some were discovered among his belongings after his death.

Although Mullen’s steroid test yielded negative results, the report revealed that other performance-enhancing drugs, such as human growth hormone and testosterone, were found along with syringes in his car.

Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday presents Cmdr. Bradley Geary the USO Special Salute Award during the USO’s 38th Annual Awards Dinner on March 10, 2020.
Chief of Naval Operations

Following the Navy investigation, Geary received an official letter of reprimand but was permitted to remain in the military. However, the impact of the letter on his career is significant, as his reputation has been tarnished throughout the investigation process, which could potentially hinder his future prospects.

“I genuinely love everyone that is entrusted to my care as a leader, and as the commanding officer of [the SEAL training program,] I loved my candidates,” Geary told The Post. “I loved Kyle Mullen; I grieved his loss and still do. I will carry that weight with me forever.”

A mother’s anguish

But Regina Mullen, the mother of the late sailor, expressed satisfaction with Geary’s fate. In fact, she shared that she would prefer to see Geary, who remains in the Navy but no longer holds a leadership position in the training program, dismissed from service due to what she believes was his involvement in her son’s death.

“I said, ‘You are a murderer. You murdered him,’” she said of her conversation with Geary in the wake of her son’s death, she shared. “I think he feels bad, but everybody feels bad when you’re caught.”

Regina Mullen went on to suggest that no one should go through the elite special forces training course.

“You are a murderer. You murdered him,” Kyle Mullen’s mother Regina told Geary.
Rachel Wisniewski

A registered nurse, she said her son would not have died if he had been given proper medical care when showing signs of respiratory distress.

“If you’re sick, you’re weak – that’s what they were like promoting and cultivating,” she said. “I don’t even know that you need the SEALs [in the military.]”

From the outset, Regina sought accountability from the command and expressed concern that the Navy might attribute her son’s death to the drugs discovered in Kyle’s car.

This week, she revealed that she had requested the service to explicitly state in a press release that there was no evidence linking PEDs to her son’s death, and her request was granted.

A photo of Kyle Mullen as a baby in his mother’s photo album.
Rachel Wisniewski

Regina Mullen asserted that, at a minimum, the command’s medics who performed the required post-Hell Week medical examination on her son should have identified his severe condition and been instructed to monitor him closely.

“They should have never let that medical team go home,” she told The Post. “They saw my son swallowing, spitting up blood – it was visible by the eye … That’s disgusting. It was abuse of power.”

After her son’s death, Regina Mullen worked with Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ), who wrote legislation aimed at improving medical care and oversight of high-stress military training programs.

“When I first met Regina, she made it clear that no other parent should ever have to endure her pain,” Smith said in a statement last week after he and Regina met with House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.). “She has made incredible strides in her goal to ensure these young men are as healthy as possible and have access to a world-class medical monitoring capability.”

Regina Mullen wears her son’s fatigues.
Rachel Wisniewski

An Independent Inquiry

The grieving mother is currently urging Congress to task the Pentagon’s internal watchdog with conducting an investigation into the case, following her support for the command investigation that implicated Geary and his team in Kyle’s death. She has also been vocal in the media, demanding accountability from the officers involved.

“The safety of the men, that’s their primary responsibility,” she told on Friday.

Geary’s attorney expressed confidence that a thorough investigation would exonerate his client from the scrutiny that has surrounded him since the initial report was concluded last autumn.

“If the Navy regrettably acts against my client, administratively or punitively, the resulting process will undoubtedly bring the needed antiseptic of sunshine to this issue,” Wareham said.

According to former Acting Defense Secretary Christopher Miller, the individuals who should be held accountable are likely Geary’s superiors. He claims that the Pentagon’s bureaucracy often shifts blame and punishment onto those leading individual commands in the aftermath of tragedies.

“The services are extremely reluctant to ever investigate themselves, and when they have to because they realize there’s pressure, the initial investigation is always flawed [with] cursory bias,” he said on Friday. “And in this one, clearly, the mother was not accepting the results of it.”

Kash Patel, former chief of staff to Miller and a longtime friend of Geary, shares the same sentiment. He believes that the Navy is targeting Geary as a way to evade accountability for disregarding Geary’s early warnings regarding attrition.

“It was a tragic death, there needs to be a justification for it and someone needs to be punished,” Patel said. “And rather than punish the people who are actually responsible for it – the secretary of the Navy and the admirals – they reach down and create a scapegoat and unfortunately … we have a tragic way of attacking our actual heroes.”

Regina Mullen has called for accountability for the officers involved in her son’s death.
Rachel Wisniewski

The expectation is that the upcoming investigation by the Inspector General (IG) will provide greater clarity on the events, reconcile conflicting accounts, and provide recommendations to prevent such incidents in the future.

“I am extremely skeptical of any investigation conducted by the United States military,” Miller said. “That’s why you have Inspector Generals [who] are typically more unbiased based on their charter and more forthright and more revealing.”

“But here’s the thing,” he added, “until Congress gets involved and forces an independent investigation, that’s the only way you get any anything meaningful out of the military.”

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