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Navy will start steroid testing SEAL units, Army to follow suit

The Navy will begin random testing first, but Army Special Operations Command said it will follow soon but has not yet set a start date.

WASHINGTON — The Navy will randomly test steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs on its special operations forces starting in November, a groundbreaking move that military leaders have long resisted.

Rear Adm. Keith Davis, commander of Naval Special Warfare Command, announced the new plan in a letter to troops on Friday, saying it was necessary to protect their health and military readiness. The Navy will begin random testing first, but Army Special Operations Command said it will follow soon but has not yet set a start date.

The Army and Navy have the largest and best-known special operations forces, including the SEALs, Army Delta Force, Green Berets and Ranger regiments. They are often called upon to perform the most sensitive and dangerous missions in the military. The physical and mental challenges of going through selection and training programs and the stress of dangerous missions may lead some to use performance-enhancing drugs, although officials say the number is small.

Use of these drugs has been a limited but ongoing problem across the military, but leaders have been reluctant to increase testing because it is highly specialized, costly and requires contracting with a handful of labs that do such work. Military departments occasionally conduct testing when they discover problems with individual service members, but they must obtain special permission from the Pentagon to conduct routine random testing.

Air Force and Marine Corps Special Operations Commands said they have not requested similar policy changes.

According to the naval command, four units will be randomly selected each month and 15% of each unit will be tested. This means that up to 200 sailors will test positive each month, and those who test positive will face disciplinary action or be fired.

The announcement has been months in the making, with one of the impetus being Early last year, a Navy SEAL candidate died.

Kyle Mullen, 24, collapsed and died of acute pneumonia just hours after completing the SEALs’ grueling Hell Week testing. a report It concluded that Mullen, of Manalapan, New Jersey, “died in the line of duty and not as a result of any misconduct on his part.” Although the tests found no evidence of performance-enhancing drugs in his system, a Naval Education and Training Command report said he was not screened for certain steroids because the required blood and urine samples were not available, and Multiple bottles of drugs and syringes were later found in his car.

A wider investigation into SEAL training by NETC shows the use of performance-enhancing drugs is a significant issue for those seeking to become elite commandos and recommends more rigorous testing.

Investigations into alleged steroid use by SEAL candidates in 2011, 2013 and 2018 resulted in disciplinary action and requests for enhanced testing. During that time, Navy leaders declined to use hair follicle testing at least twice, and the Defense Department did not authorize random testing of steroids.

Davis requested a policy change to allow screening, and the Pentagon’s undersecretary for personnel approved a waiver in January authorizing random testing within Naval Special Warfare forces. The test affects only the command’s approximately 9,000 active-duty troops and active-duty reservists. Civilians are not included.

Davis said the force-wide random testing measure is a commitment to the long-term health of every member of the Naval Special Warfare community.

Army Special Operations Command has also been approved for random testing and is developing a plan, said Lt. Col. Mike Burns, a spokesman for Army Special Operations Command.

The Navy has provided $225,000 in funding for the test contract through the end of this month, which is expected to cost about $4.5 million each of the next two years.

Noting that the drugs are illegal, Davis told his troops that any number above zero was unacceptable, whether during training or off the line when sailors were deployed. He urged sailors to discuss drugs and their risks with teammates and commanders.

“My intention is to ensure that every NSW team-mate is able to perform at their natural best while maintaining NSW’s outstanding standards of excellence,” he said in a message to police.

Under the order, people will still be allowed to obtain prescription drugs to treat legitimate medical conditions.

Command leaders also stressed that there is only anecdotal evidence that drug use within the ranks improves performance.

The command said that between February 2022 and March 2023, the Naval Special Warfare Center conducted more than 2,500 screening tests and found that 74 SEALs or special operations personnel had elevated testosterone levels. Allegedly, three candidates eventually tested positive for doping. Testosterone testing is more common, but is less precise and requires additional screening to identify steroid use.

The new random testing will require sailors to provide two urine samples. One will be sent to the Sports Medicine Research and Testing Laboratory, a cutting-edge laboratory used by the international sports community to test for doping, and one will go to the Great Lakes Navy Drug Screening Laboratory to check for standard drugs.

If the test is positive, the Sailor will be notified, a preliminary investigation will be conducted, and if there is no legitimate reason for taking drugs, the Sailor will be subject to disciplinary action and removed from the service. SEAL or SWCC candidates will be removed from training.

In accordance with Navy procedures, all SEALs and SWCCs are notified of the substance ban and sign an acknowledgment of the ban.

A NETC report released earlier this year suggested that SEAL candidates may have received conflicting messages about the use of performance-enhancing drugs. In one case, it noted that while discussing the policy with Mullen’s class, an unnamed instructor told the sailors that all types of people could pass the course, including “steroid monkeys and skinny strongmen.” Don’t use PEDS, it’s cheating and you don’t need them. Whatever you do, don’t be caught with them in your barracks. “

After an “awkward silence,” the coach added, “It was a joke,” the report said. Some candidates allegedly interpreted that as an implicit endorsement of the use of the drugs. The report also stated that the drugs were discovered during routine barrack inspections or that sailors had admitted to using them.

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