Navy SEAL Culture Is 'Eroding' Due To Drug Abuse, Captain Says

By Kelly Burch 04/13/17

Officials within the Navy SEALs intend to enforce regular drug tests upon deployment and on the road in an effort to calm the trend.

Navy SEALs surveying their surroundings

Drug use among Navy SEALs is a growing problem, according to a commander in charge of 900 SEALs on the East Coast who spoke sharply to his troops about the issue, telling them, “I feel betrayed.”

“I feel like I’m watching our foundation, our culture erode in front of our eyes,” said Captain Jamie Sands, according to a report by CBS News. After only three months on the job, Sands has seen five SEALs be dismissed for drug use. Last December, the SEALs halted training in order to address the issue. 

“How do you do that to us? How do you decide that it’s OK for you to do drugs?” Sands said to his troops in a video obtained by CBS.

Before he spoke, Sands’ chief of staff said that Navy Special Operations troops had a higher rate of drug use than the general Navy population. “It’s growing,” said one SEAL. “The drug use, it’s growing.”

Sands says that taking drugs has become part of SEAL culture. “They think it was OK because they’ve seen other people do it,” he said. “They think their teammates won’t turn them in. They think it’s kind of the cool thing to do, but they think it’s OK.”

For a force that takes on some of the most dangerous missions that the military engages in, any drug use is extremely concerning. Admiral Timothy Szymanski, head of the Naval Special Warfare Command told CBS News that “anything above zero represents a disturbing trend for this elite force.”

For SEALs who are in combat, knowing that their comrades are using drugs undermines the security of the team. “It’s a population that is supposed to be elite performers, all with classifications, to where they have national security information and responsibilities,” an anonymous SEAL told CBS. “That’s dangerous to my teammates.”

Another SEAL agreed. “If we need your ability, I don’t need to be in the back of my mind thinking that, OK, can I really trust this guy? Is he 100% going to cover my back?”

However, the SEALs who spoke with CBS News said they didn’t feel comfortable pointing out drug use to superiors. “You stand up for what’s right, and you get blackballed, or driven out,” one said. Another added, “It’s a career killer.”

However, both the SEALs leadership and troops on the ground realize that the drug use within the fleet needs to be addressed. 

“I’m sitting in this chair because I’m not proud anymore to be in the community because of the direction that it’s going,” one SEAL told CBS. Another said that he'd heard of people testing positive for methamphetamine, heroin, cocaine, marijuana and ecstasy. 

Like all members of the armed forces, Navy SEALs are supposed to be subject to random urine screenings. However, that doesn’t happen regularly because the SEALs are so often deployed. Sands vowed to change that. 

“We’re going to test on the road,” Sands said. “We’re going to test on deployment. If you do drugs, if you decide to be that selfish individual—which I don’t think anyone’s going to do after today, I believe that—then you will be caught.”

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Kelly Burch writes about addiction and mental health issues, particularly as they affect families. Follow her on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.