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Navy SEAL Death Puts Spotlight On Training Program

Navy SEAL candidates cover themselves in sand during one of the first phases of SEAL training, Sept. 2, 2015.
U.S. Navy
Navy SEAL candidates cover themselves in sand during one of the first phases of SEAL training, Sept. 2, 2015.

Navy SEAL Death Puts Spotlight On Training Program
Navy SEAL Death Puts Spotlight On Training Program GUEST: Bob Schoultz, retired officer, Navy SEAL

This is KPBS Midday Edition Maureen Cavanaugh. About 70% of the sailors to start training to be Navy SEALs never make it through the program. The training is designed to create an elite special forces fighting team. It is not supposed to be lethal. The medical examiners office ruled last year's death of James Loveless homicide. It allegedly shows in a structure loving Yash -- yelling at him and ducking his head underwater. Welcome to the program. Thank you. 21-year-old James Loveless died during a pool exercise known as combat swimmer orientation. Can you tell us more about the tasks specifically? I can tell you what it was when I went through what I think the purpose is. It has evolved quite a bit since I went through. The intent is to build gradually to where they ask the trainees to undergo stress and chaos and the water. The pool is a fairly controlled environment. This is though final stage of that. Instead of having to go through this first in the ocean, they go through this training in a pool. They go through it in the pool. Later on they are doing things that are more complicated and challenging at night and in the water where there is not the control. They are seeing how comfortable they are in an unpredictable, somewhat chaotic environment to manage their own stress and so on. Instructor in this video, which I have not seen is said to be dunking and yelling at him. Is that the kind of training that you went through? Is that the kind of intimidation that you experienced from instructors when he went through Navy seal training? I have not seen the video and I don't really know what happened but when I went through, yes. I guarantee you it was worse than. Some of the things we did then they should not have been doing and they since have it better under control and there's much more supervision and there is a much higher instructor to student ratio. What is the point of getting in your face, even when somebody is having a hard time? What are the instructors trying to do? They're trying to see how well you can maintain your cool when it appears the environment is chaotic. How well do you follow instructions when you are intimidated and afraid and when things are not going smoothly in a very controlled manner. That is basically simulating combat slowly. What do you and what you think draws other candidate to the Navy SEALs considering how grueling this training actually is? Most young man who had an athletic background and a lot of young women as well want to continue to test themselves. They want to serve the military and respect the profession and test themselves in that context. I in the other people my training class most of my colleagues had been athletes and push themselves when they were younger. This was a way for them to continue to do that and respect their profession. Can you tell us what other exercises and drills the Navy seal candidates have to go through? It is done in phases. Ultimately they will be jumping out of an airplane at 92 an unknown drops down with equipment on. You don't get there until you have gone through a whole lot of steps, just like peeling that the layers of an onion. The training and the pool of maintaining your cool and doing what you're trained to do under pressure is good training for when you are jumping out of an airplane and you are afraid and you have to do what you are afraid to do and you are afraid are going into a jungle at night in all of the different things we do. It requires that sort of managing fierce. Someone used the example of getting your butterflies to fly in formation. All of the Navy SEALs go through training here. How long as I training? The basic training is six months long. There is an intermediate level training wish they call a seal qualification training, which is about five or six months long depending on whether it is an officer or enlisted and other variables. The totality is about a year. During that time, you must have seen an awful lot of people drop out. When I went through, it was quite a while ago. Was about 40 years ago. We lost most of our people as well. Some of them drop out because they volunteer out and others are injured and cannot continue. Seminar of -- some are injured and he'll enjoin the next class or the class after. There is a fairly small percentage of the students to start with a classic graduate with that class. A good deal of the trainees will get her anger he'll for a couple months and pick up the next class. You said a number of times that you went through this training 40 years ago. Had you apprehend the training has changed from the time you went through it to now? I think it is quite a bit more challenging than it was then. I have a son who went through 12 years ago and he is a seal officer now. I listened to what he went through and I have young men live at my house. Advocacy though behind my house and they live with me while they are training. Goes into their stories. It has evolved to make it more professional, more focused on the environment that they have to get prepared fighting. There is quite a bit more safety precautions building. We did not have a doctor when I went through. There are quite a few medical doctors there. All of the instructors are qualified and CPR. Is an instructor qualification course that all of the instructors have to go through the they didn't when I went through. Part of the spotlight has been put on us because of recent operations and the maturity of the program over 50 years. This is the first time a death has been classified as a homicide by the Medical Examiner's Office. Abend last sale candidates over the past 30 years have died going through training. The Navy is pointing out accurately that homicide does not necessarily mean criminal. They are doing their own investigation. What he think it means to that program. That is uncertain. Obviously homicide is associated with murder which is unfortunate. Every time a police officer kill somebody it is good littered a homicide. I was told that a couple days ago by the chief of police he was aware of this as well. It determines culpability. You think there should be changes in the Navy SEALs training? I think it should continue to evolve and good people are watching anything -- anytime something like this happens. I do know the people that are running it and I have ultimate faith in them. This is breaking their hearts. Apart from the negative publicity, they knew this young man. They are looking at what they can do to keep the standards high to make sure they leave the training environment are prepared for the chaos of the environments that they will go into at the same time it is as safe as possible. There is a certain risk associated. The jump out of an airplane there is risk associated. You can mitigate that risk without illuminating it entirely. They will make the changes and look at what they could of done differently. There will always be changes to make it safer while still rigorous and demanding. Up and speaking with Bob Schoultz, a retired Navy seal officer. Inc. you very much. You are welcome.

About 75 percent of the sailors who begin training to become Navy SEALs don't make it through the six-month program.

The grueling training is designed to create an elite special forces fighting team.

But it is not supposed to be lethal.

The San Diego County Medical Examiner's Office last week determined that the drowning death of Navy SEAL candidate James Derek Lovelace in May was a homicide.

A video taken of the incident, which occurred in a pool at Naval Amphibious Base Coronado, reportedly shows an instructor dunking Lovelace repeatedly.

Bob Schoultz, a retired Navy SEAL officer, provides some insight into what trainees go through during training on KPBS Midday Edition on Monday.