Tear gas video triggers investigation into Navy SEAL selection course

Credit: CBSNews
Credit: CBSNews

▶ Watch Video: Navy SEALs tear gas video prompts investigation

Navy SEAL recruits on California’s San Clemente Island were blanketed in a cloud of tear gas while being ordered to sing “Happy Birthday” so they couldn’t hold their breath during training last year, according to a video obtained by CBS News. Exposure to tear gas is a standard part of SEAL training — but the video raised questions about how that training was carried out. 

The admiral in charge of Navy SEALs ordered an investigation when he saw the video. He told CBS News it raises questions about “the lawfulness of the behavior.” 

The investigation is examining whether the gas was administered at too close a range for too long. It’s also looking at whether the instructors were simply not aware of the proper procedures or whether they meant to abuse or punish the SEALS, which could be a criminal offense. 

Tear gas is a right of passage for almost all military recruits, usually when they are taught how to properly don a face mask and what happens if they don’t. But regulations for tear gas use in SEAL training require the instructors to stay at least six feet away from the recruits to avoid the danger of burns and to use the gas for no more than 15 seconds. 

The video shows the gas lasting for more than a minute, and recruits, who have already proven themselves tough enough to complete two-thirds of the selection course, crying out in pain. One appears to pass out, which the regulations warn is what happens when you try to hold your breath. 

“I think this type of training is really senseless,” said Sven Jordt, a Duke University associate professor who studies tear gas and its effects. “It looks more like a form of hazing.” 

The video was obtained by investigative reporter Matthew Cole, author of “Code Over Country,” a recent book about Seal Team Six. 

“I got this video from some SEAL students who are trying to become SEALs and felt that the instructors and the SEALs were abusive and very careless with their health,” Cole told CBS News. 

The video raises more questions about the abuse SEAL candidates endure during the grueling selection process. 

Last month, the Navy ordered an investigation into the selection course after the death of SEAL candidate Kyle Mullen, who had just made it through the infamous “Hell Week.” Mullen died of pneumonia, which his mother attributed to the time he spent submerged in the cold water off the coast of Southern California during Hell Week.