Arnon Grunberg



On SEAL-training – Dave Philipps in NYT:

‘Kyle Mullen always had the natural drive and talent that made success look easy. Until he tried out for the Navy SEALs.
The 24-year-old arrived on the California coast in January for the SEALs’ punishing selection course in the best shape of his life — even better than when he was a state champion defensive end in high school or the captain of the football team at Yale.
But by the middle of the course’s third week — a continual gut punch of physical and mental hardship, sleep deprivation and hypothermia that the SEALs call Hell Week — the 6-foot-4-inch athlete from Manalapan, N.J., was dead-eyed with exhaustion, riddled with infection and coughing up blood from lungs that were so full of fluid that others who were there said later that he sounded like he was gargling.’


‘The SEAL teams have faced criticism for decades, both from outsiders and their own Navy leadership, that their selection course, known as Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL training or BUD/S, is too difficult, too brutal, and too often causes concussions, broken bones, dangerous infections and near-drownings. Since 1953, at least 11 men have died.’


‘After Seaman Mullen died, the SEAL teams appeared to try to deflect blame from the course and frame the incident as a freak occurrence. Though Seaman Mullen had coughed up blood for days and had needed oxygen, the Navy announced that he and the man who was intubated were “not actively training when they reported symptoms,” and that neither “had experienced an accident or unusual incident” during Hell Week.
The official cause of death was bacterial pneumonia, but Seaman Mullen’s family says the true cause was the course itself, in which instructors routinely drove candidates to dangerous states of exhaustion and injury, and medical staff grew so accustomed to seeing the suffering that they failed to hospitalize him, or even monitor him, once Hell Week was over.’


‘till, the prevalence of drugs at BUD/S has some men in the top reaches of the SEALs deeply unnerved — not just because drugs may have contributed to the death of a sailor, but also because they see their spread, and the lack of discipline and order it implies, as a threat to the entire SEAL organization that could grow in unpredictable and ugly ways.
Sailors who enter the program bolstered by steroids and hormones can push harder, recover faster and probably beat out the sailors who are trying to become SEALs while clean, said one senior SEAL leader with multiple combat deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan. The inevitable effect, he said, is that a course designed to select the very best will end up selecting only the very best cheaters, and steadily fill the SEAL teams with war fighters who view rules as optional.
“What am I going to do with guys like that in a place like Afghanistan?” said the leader. “A guy who can do 100 pull-ups but can’t make an ethical decision?”’


‘One young sailor who went through BUD/S in May said that many would-be SEALs had come to believe that the course was too hard to complete without drugs. Despite Seaman Mullen’s death, he said, some sailors were still using illicit performance enhancers — in particular, a group of unregulated supplements called SARMSthat are difficult to detect.
It is hard to say what role performance-enhancing drugs played in one death when there are so many other complicating factors, said Dr. Matthew Fedoruk, the chief science officer of the United States Anti-Doping Agency. Even so, he said, the chemicals some sailors are relying on can interfere with the function of the heart, liver and other critical organs that are already under incredible stress from the brutal training.
If enough people in a community are doping, he said, it spreads risk even to those who are clean, as the level of competition rises and more people are pushed to exhaustion and injury.
“It makes it that much harder for the people doing the right thing to shine,” he said.
Navy leaders say they are determined to correct the problems. BUD/S now requires all candidates to be medically monitored for 24 hours after Hell Week, leaders have dialed back some of the most abusive course requirements, and several SEALs were quietly removed from instructor positions after Seaman Mullen’s death.’


‘Seaman Mullen was assigned to an internal recovery unit, where he had four months to mend before a second attempt at BUD/S. During that time, he helped care for other injured candidates recovering in the barracks, according to his mother, whom he called regularly for medical advice.
Many men were coughing up bloody fluid from a condition called swimming-induced pulmonary edema — a potentially life-threatening ailment that is so common among men training in the frigid water at BUD/S that SEALs refer to it casually by the acronym SIPE.
During his four-month wait, his mother recalled, Seaman Mullen started talking to her about performance enhancing drugs.
Men he met in the recovery unit were using steroids and human growth hormone, he told her, and he was considering it. He told her he would have to buy a used car as a place to stash the drugs.
“In all his years playing sports, he had never touched that stuff,” Ms. Mullen said. “I told him not to do it. But he ended up getting the car and sharing it with a bunch of guys.”’


‘By 2016, former candidates said, drugs were back. That’s when 19-year-old Brandon Caserta went through BUD/S and told his father, Patrick Caserta, a retired Navy senior chief petty officer, that drugs were “rampant.” “He refused to do them, but he said the guys that did definitely had an edge,” Mr. Caserta said.
Three weeks in, Seaman Caserta collapsed while carrying a boat. Instructors yelled at him to get up, and when he said he couldn’t, his father said, they made him quit the course. An X-ray later revealed a broken leg.
Candidates who don’t complete BUD/S often must serve out the remaining years of their enlistments in undesirable low-level Navy jobs. Seaman Caserta ended up manning a snack counter at a distant base.
“He really was disheartened,” his father said. “He felt like he’d been cheated out of something he had worked hard for.” In 2018, Seaman Caserta left a note for his parents criticizing the Navy for its treatment of him and saying he did not want a military funeral, and then hurled himself into the tail rotor of a Navy helicopter.’


‘In a perverse way, the drug problem at BUD/S is a natural outgrowth of the mind-set the SEALs try to cultivate, according to Benjamin Milligan, a former enlisted SEAL who recently published a history of the force, “Water Beneath the Walls.” The SEALs want operators who can find unconventional ways to gain an advantage against the enemy, he said in an interview.
“You want guys who can solve problems in war, guys who know how to play dirty, because war is a dirty game,” he said.
An often heard unofficial adage in the SEALs holds that, “if you ain’t cheating, you ain’t trying.” During BUD/S, he said, the “enemy” to be outfoxed is the course itself.
“No one can do everything the instructors ask, so you have to learn how to cheat to get through,” he said. “Everyone knows it happens. The point is to learn how to not get caught.” “Basically, you are selecting for guys who are willing to cheat,” he added. “So, no surprise, guys are going to turn to drugs.”’


‘But on the beach, sailors say, the problems continue. A month after Seaman Mullen died, there was another close call. After late-night training in the frigid surf, one sailor — cold, wet, hungry and exhausted — started shivering violently, then became unresponsive while huddled in the arms of another sailor who was trying to keep him warm, according to two sailors who were there.
The sailors immediately called the BUD/S medical office, but once again, they said, there was no answer. They put their classmate in a hot shower, called 911 and were able to get him civilian medical help.
The next morning, the two sailors said, instructors let the class know they were not happy. To punish them for calling 911, the sailors said, the instructors made the class do long bouts of push-ups. Whenever anyone dropped from exhaustion, instructors made the man who had been treated at the hospital for hypothermia plunge again into the cold surf.’

Read the article here.

War is a dirty game for cheaters, at least if you want to survive.

It rings true, although ‘Catch-22’ teaches us that there are other ways to survive, also by cheating but less violent. Fair enough, the novel is about an officer in the air force, and the air force is the air force. Better beds and (often slightly) better food. In general a slightly better life.

If war is for cheaters, we should not be surprised that the laws of war are often a dead letter.

Also, some of the practices described in this article reminds one of a concentration camp.

I understand that to prepare men (and we are still talking about men) for war a certain training is necessary, especially for special forces.

But where training becomes sheer sadism, the armed forces have a problem.

The tragic fate of Brandon Caserta is telling.

See also Kubrick’s brilliant movie ‘Full Metal Jacket’. And that was basic training.

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