Decades of Combat Led to SEAL Team Discipline Issues, Acting Navy Secretary Says

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Greek special forces and U.S. Navy SEALs attack an objective under the cover of night during Sarisa 16, an annual Greek exercise, near Thessaloniki, Greece, on Sept. 20, 2016. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Marcus Fichtl)
Greek special forces and U.S. Navy SEALs attack an objective under the cover of night during Sarisa 16, an annual Greek exercise, near Thessaloniki, Greece, on Sept. 20, 2016. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Marcus Fichtl)

The new acting secretary of the Navy says he is concerned that the strain of two decades of combat may be to blame for some of the discipline problems that prompted a recent crackdown in the Naval Special Warfare community.

"We have been at war now for almost 20 years, and you are starting to see what that is doing to our forces," Acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly told an audience Thursday at a U.S. Naval Institute defense forum, referring to some of the "cultural challenges that we are having in the special operations community."

Modly was named acting secretary of the Navy after Richard V. Spencer was fired from the post over his handling of the highly publicized war crimes case against Chief Petty Officer Edward Gallagher. Modly's comments, the first made publicly since he became acting secretary, alluded to some of the news coverage of scandals in the special operations community that resulted in Navy leadership launching an ethics review, followed by a discipline crackdown.

In July, a Naval Special Warfare platoon was kicked out of Iraq over alleged sexual misconduct and drinking in the war zone. Another incident in April 2018 involved a handful of Navy SEALs testing positive for cocaine use.

Related: SEAL and Marine Raider Accused of Murdering Green Beret to Go on Trial Next Year

There have also been high-profile legal cases, such as those of Chief Special Warfare Operators Adam Matthews and Anthony DeDolph, accused of killing an Army staff sergeant. Matthews pleaded guilty to lesser charges and was sentenced to a year in prison; DeDolph still faces trial.

Modly acknowledged the problem and said some of it "has to do with the fact that we have been asking people to do extremely hard, stressful and dangerous jobs for 20 years."

"It does have the capability to create a cultural problems within the special operations [community], and we saw some of this play itself out," he said. "It's causing significant strain on our forces; we have to really think about how long we want to keep these folks out, particularly in these extremely high stress, high violent, close contact type of work."

On Monday, Adm. Michael Gilday, the chief of naval operations, released a Navy-wide message on integrity and standards of conduct.

"This is a chance to think about what makes us a profession ... and why it is so important that we take our values to work every day and especially into combat. That is what the nation expects, and it's easy to take that for granted," he said at the forum. "We have made some mistakes, in some communities in particular, but it's something that we have to dig back into and not just put it behind us."

-- Matthew Cox can be reached at matthew.cox@military.com.

-- Military.com's Gina Harkins contributed to this report.

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