The US military will begin random drug tests on its special forces, including the Navy SEALs and the Army’s Delta Force, Green Berets and Ranger Regiment, for steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs beginning in November.
US Rear Admiral Keith Davids, commander of Naval Special Warfare Command, said on Friday that the testing was necessary to protect the health of soldiers and military readiness.
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The Navy will be the first to begin random testing in November and the US Army Special Operations Command said it will soon follow suit, although no start date has been set.
The US Air Force and the Marine Corps special forces commands said they have not yet requested a similar policy of random drug testing.
The use of steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs has been a limited but persistent problem across the US military, but leaders in the armed forces have baulked at increased testing.
— U.S. Naval Institute (@NavalInstitute) September 29, 2023
The US military services have done occasional tests when they perceive a problem with an individual service member, but they must get special permission from the Pentagon to do routine, random testing.
According to the Navy command, four military units will be randomly selected each month, and 15 percent of each will be tested. That will amount to as many as 200 sailors monthly, and those testing positive face discipline or removal.
A driving factor in the announcement, which has been in the works for months, was the death of a Navy SEAL candidate early last year.
Kyle Mullen, 24, collapsed and died of acute pneumonia just hours after completing the SEALs’ gruelling Hell Week test. A report concluded that Mullen, from Manalapan, New Jersey, died “in the line of duty, not due to his own misconduct”.
Although tests found no evidence of performance-enhancing drugs in his system, a report by the Naval Education and Training Command (NETC) said he was not screened for some steroids because the needed blood and urine samples were not available, and that multiple vials of drugs and syringes were later found in his car.
A broader investigation by the NETC into SEAL training flagged the use of performance-enhancing drugs as a significant problem among those seeking to become elite US commandos and recommended far more robust testing.
Investigations in 2011, 2013 and 2018 into suspected steroid use by SEAL candidates led to discipline and requests for enhanced testing.
The new random testing will require that sailors provide two urine samples. One will be sent to the Sports Medicine Research and Testing Laboratory, a cutting-edge lab used by international sports to test for doping, and one will go to the Navy Drug Screening Laboratory Great Lakes to check for standard drugs.
If the test result is positive, the sailor will be notified, there will be a preliminary inquiry and if there is no legal reason for the drugs, the sailor will be subject to discipline and removal from the force.