Hell Week is not for heroes, believes Regina Mullen.
On Feb. 4, 2022, her son Kyle Mullen was nearing the final days of the notoriously brutal phase-one training to be a Navy SEAL at Naval Amphibious Base Coronado, near San Diego, when he died.
“Friday morning, after completing Hell Week, he was laid flat on his back on the floor of the barracks, upon a mattress, with his legs up,” Regina, 57, told The Post, explaining that it is what all of the SEAL candidates were made to do. “That was protocol.”
But Kyle was ailing.
“A 19-year-old boy with no medical background looked after him. Kyle turned blue and spit up blood all over the barracks,” she added, recounting what she had been told by the young man’s mother and father.
“Paramedics [via 911 had been] called for another boy, whose lips were blue. They arrived and came into the barracks to look at Kyle. My son died in the arms of the 19-year-old, who now feels terrible and blames himself for what happened; he shouldn’t, since it was not his fault. Paramedics worked on Kyle for 30 minutes and were unable to revive him. He was pronounced dead in a community hospital 30 minutes away.”
Navy medics, normally in nearby quarters, according to Regina, had knocked off for the day at noon.
“Somebody was supposedly on call,” said Regina, a registered nurse in Manalapan, NJ. “But they were not answering the phone.
“They say he died in the hospital. But that is where he was pronounced dead. He died in the barracks, under the Navy’s watch. Navy medics were called three times and did not answer. That is why 911 finally had to be called. And why did they take him to an off-site hospital to pronounce him dead?”
Regina hopes that something positive can come from her son’s tragic death: She is pushing for policy change that has been nicknamed Kyle’s Reform.
“I want independent oversight for the Navy SEALs,” she said. “It would be for people to be held accountable through independent congressional investigations. Who, for example, told the medical team to go home? I’d like to know that. That person should be accountable. And I also want top-notch medical monitoring, treatment and observation after the men go through the most rigorous training in the world. That does not exist right now.”
Hell Week takes place during the third week of the first phase of SEAL training. The idea is to quickly weed out those who are not tough enough to make it. Characterized as the most challenging test in the military, it nips out 75 percent of the candidates who can’t take rolling in mud, paddling through icy cold surf, withstanding the burn of salt water on eyes and chafed skin, doing sit-ups while holding large logs, running some 200 miles and barely sleeping.
The tough minority who manage to survive go a big step closer to joining a top-flight fighting forces. Name for its ability to operate on Sea, Air and Land, the Navy SEAL division was founded in 1962. Initially, it was devised to instruct the South Vietnamese on covert maneuvers. Four years later, a platoon of SEALs conducted missions of their own in Vietnam.
These days the SEALs are called on for challenging endeavors that have included taking out Osama bin Laden and rescuing Philip Walton, a US citizen who had been abducted from his farm in Niger and held for ransom. No money was paid and six of his seven captors were killed.
Regina describes her son as “an amazing athlete, a good student, a motivated man. He enjoyed being part of a team and wanted to make a difference in the world. Kyle did not want to be in any other branch of the military. He liked that the SEALs were an elite group for the greater good.”
He grew up in Manalapan and attended Yale University before transferring to Monmouth College, from which he graduated in 2021 with a degree in psychology. Kyle and his older brother, who works in finance and lives in Florida, were raised by single mom Regina.
Following college, Kyle enlisted in the Navy with his heart set on becoming a SEAL. After proving his mettle on written tests and physical challenges at Pugzee Farm, a training facility in Washington, Mass., Mullen was selected for the final stage of initiation at Naval Amphibious Base Coronado, in July 2021.
Like any mother, Regina worried about her son handling the inevitable combat that comes with being a SEAL.
“I asked how he would shoot somebody if he had to,” she recalled. “He said it was about doing what he had to do to save thousands of people in the world.”
Initially, she was less worried about training: “You had to do a lot of water work. In Massachusetts, he would get his hands and feet tied and survive in cold water. Before leaving for training, he’d joke about going away to drown. But I was confident that there is a science about how long you can stay in the water without getting hypothermia. The idea was that they would take him out when they had to. All he had to do, he thought, was not quit. And he would not quit.”
Regina, had ingrained that thinking into her son: “My saying is, ‘I don’t quit. I die trying.’ When I expressed concern about Kyle being a SEAL, he threw that back at me.”
But after his first day of training at Coronado, in August 2021, Regina was concerned.
“It was hot and they were doing rigorous exercise in the heat without drinking water,” she recalled being told by her son. “There was a drill where seven guys held a heavy rubber-boat over their heads and walked as a group. One of the guys noticed that my son was turning gray and his eyes were rolling to the back of his head. He said, ‘Kyle, we got you. Run alongside us and we will get through this together.’ Kyle did and he got through it. Collapsing before the drill is done is basically the same as quitting. He would have [been dismissed, put into another position with the Navy and forced] to wait two years to try re-enlisting as a SEAL.”
Regina told The Post that, during that day, Kyle developed “heat stroke, dehydration and rhabdomyolysis. That is where the muscles break down and little particles of muscle go into your blood stream. They can block your kidneys and cause you to die. With that condition, you should be taken to the hospital. Instead, an ambulance came and took him for blood work, which led to the diagnosis. Then he was returned to the barracks and told to lay in bed and drink water. He should have been in a hospital setting with an IV. Medical treatment in this elite military division is horrible.”
Mullen went on light duty, during which time he avoided doing anything strenuous as he recovered. In that capacity, according to Regina, he looked after would-be SEALS enduring potentially deadly ailments.
“Kyle called and said his friend’s leg was swollen and the instructors would not let him go to medical,” Regina recalled. “The kid took himself to the hospital and the doctor found a blood clot in his leg. He could have died.”
After a few months of taking it easy, Kyle recovered and resumed the rigorous training that leads up to the notorious Hell Week. He restarted his process with 209 hopefuls in January 2022. By the kick-off of Hell Week, which began January 30, only 59 remained. The others had dropped out or been dismissed.
Those who could not hack it were made to give up in humiliating fashion.
“You’re told that your pain is not what you think it is. You have to grind it out. These are men who do not want to be known as quitters,” said Regina. As Hell Week neared, he was proud to be among those who toughed it out.
Just prior to the start of the intensive training, he called his mother and told her she would not be hearing from him for the week. Cellphones are taken away for this ultimate test of survival.
“On Friday,” she said, “I received a text from Kyle at 10:57 a.m., California time. The text said ‘Hell Week secured!’ I called him and he said, ‘Mom I did it.’ But he sounded like he could barely speak or breathe properly. I told him as much. He said, ‘Don’t worry, Mom. I’m good. I love you.’ Then he hung up. I texted [him] that he did not sound good. I didn’t know what condition he was in and asked for him to have somebody call me. I did not hear back.”
The next morning, Feb. 5, there was a knock on Regina’s door at around 8 a.m. “I put on my robe, opened the door and saw eight military officers wearing white suits,” she recalled. “I said to them, ‘Kyle’s not coming home, is he?’ They said, ‘No, ma’am. He’s not.’ I said, ‘They killed him.’ I was sick to my stomach. I ran to the kitchen table and sat down.”
After composing herself, Regina wanted answers: “I asked what happened. They said they didn’t know. They said he was found in the barracks. But that he was not alone and he was happy. They said he died holding another boy’s hand. I asked if he was in the hospital and they said he was in the barracks.”
Doing her own research a few weeks later, while in Coronado for her son’s memorial, Regina alleged that she uncovered a slightly more complicated story.
“I spoke with men recently dropped from the program and paramedics who tended to my son. I found out that on Wednesday, he was put on oxygen due to SIPE [swimming-induced pulmonary edema],” she said of the condition, which can result in fluid leaking into the lungs.
Three days after contracting this, Regina said, Kyle was dead.
Although she is still awaiting an autopsy, Regina has been learning whatever she can about events leading to Kyle’s death. “They run miles in the sand, do sit-ups and pushups, keep carrying that heavy rubber boat. Then they go into freezing cold water. They rowed through the ocean from Thursday night until Friday morning. Waves would knock the boat over and they would get back in it,” she said, recounting what she heard while visiting Coronado.
“My son wound up dying from pneumonia. What’s heartbreaking is that if proper medical tests were done, he would have been hospitalized and would be alive today. If the Navy medic had been there and had come to the barracks, my son would have been fine. Instead he was being monitored by a non-medical person and no analysis — after all they had gone through that week — was taken.”
She said her son, in elite military training, got less care than “refugees [who] come over the water from Cuba and get sent to the hospital to be checked out.”
Looking back on it, she continued, “They talk about leaving no man behind. But they left my son behind. The Navy gave up on Kyle and left him on the floor to die. There should be manslaughter charges filed.”
Adding insult to injury: She received a $3,175 bill for emergency services related to treating her son. “That was really annoying,” Regina said, acknowledging that the bill was sent by mistake and that she was ultimately not expected to to pay the money. “And there was also the messed-up plaque.”
She’s referring to a typo on the plaque adorning the urn with her son’s remains. It identified him as Kyle T. Mullen instead of Kyle F. Mullen. The plaque was replaced, but Regina sees these incidents as indicative of a larger problem: “It’s complete incompetence. They don’t take care of their men.”
In response to Regina’s allegations, a statement from Naval Special Command maintains, “Multiple independent investigations are ongoing into the circumstances surrounding Seaman Kyle Mullen’s death. Until the investigations are complete, it is inappropriate to speculate on the cause of death or contributing factors.”
Particularly galling for Regina is that, she claimed, the Navy investigates situations internally and not through an outside organization. She hopes to resolve this for others, through Kyle’s Reform, and on behalf of her her own son as well.
“They decide their own punishment and nobody is held accountable,” she said. “I need a private investigation done so that there are checks and balances against the Navy. There is no independent oversight and that is insane. I am fighting to have that done for my son and for others. A medical team needs to be properly trained and these men need to have the utmost in medical care after completing Hell Week.
“Kyle’s mother is not going to let this go. He is not going to have died in vain.”