The commanding officer and the senior enlisted adviser of a Virginia Beach-based Navy SEAL team deployed in East Africa have been relieved of their duties because of allegations of sexual assault and harassment. In addition, 11 members of other East Coast SEAL units tested positive for drugs and face disciplinary action, according to a Navy official and two members of the special operations community.
“A commanding officer and command master chief assigned to an East Coast-based Naval Special Warfare unit have been relieved of their duties overseas due to alleged misconduct,” said Cmdr. Tamara Lawrence, a spokesperson for Naval Special Warfare, the Navy SEAL command. “Naval Special Warfare and NCIS have initiated investigations as appropriate.”
According to two current Navy SEAL consultants familiar with the case, the investigation into the commander and his senior enlisted adviser concerns allegations of sexual assault and sexual harassment of a female service member while deployed in East Africa. Both consultants requested anonymity because they are not permitted to publicly discuss the investigation.
Both the commander and the master chief were sent back to their Virginia Beach-based unit pending the investigation.
Separately, the commanding officer of all Navy SEALs, Rear Adm. Timothy Szymanski, addressed a large gathering Friday, in what the Navy refers to as an “all hands” meeting after the 11 SEALs tested positive for drug use in recent weeks. Lawrence confirmed that Szymanski addressed the SEALs, but would not provide details of his remarks. “During a number of command drug tests from March to April 2018, 11 service members from East Coast based Naval Special Warfare units tested positive for controlled substances,” said Lawrence.
“We have a zero-tolerance policy for the use of illicit drugs and, as such, these individuals will be held accountable for their actions. We are confident in our drug-testing procedures and will continue to impress on all members of the command that illicit drugs are incompatible with the SEAL Ethos and Naval service.”
Last year, a senior SEAL officer told the East Coast SEALs that there had been a “staggering” amount of drug use in the SEAL teams, according to a CBS News report. After several SEALs tested positive for drugs in late 2016, the entire SEAL command was put on a stand-down order and submitted to drug tests.
The larger SEAL command, which includes the elite SEAL Team 6, has struggled with drugs and discipline in recent years, according to several current and former members of the SEAL community.
One of the military consultants said there has been a spike in disciplinary and legal issues for SEALs since the drawdown of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. “Take warriors out of a war zone and take all their stimuli away and see what happens,” the consultant said.
The SEAL community has been waiting for the results of a NCIS investigation into the strangulation death of an Army Special Forces sergeant last summer. In that case, two members of SEAL Team 6 are considered “persons of interest” after they changed their accounts of how the Green Beret died in their shared living quarters while deployed to Mali.
ABC News first reported that the two SEAL leaders in Africa were removed.