14:22 GMT21 October 2020
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    An investigation into an incident at the Naval Special Warfare training complex in the California city of Coronado that left a Navy SEAL student in a coma revealed that such “challenge bets” in SEAL classrooms are routine.

    The incident took place on October 12, 2017, inside a classroom at California’s Naval Amphibious Base Coronado during a land navigation course for the Basic Under Water Demolition/SEAL training program (BUD/S).

    As an incentive to answer the question correctly, two unidentified sailors agreed to slap whoever got the question incorrect. One of the sailors slapped his peer with so much force that he hit his head against the wall. He was rushed to the Naval Medical Center San Diego and was placed in a medically-induced coma per doctor’s orders, according to the Navy Times. The student emerged from the coma two days later and had no recollection of the slap.

    “[The student’s] skull strikes the stage with enough force to make an audible noise, causing many students who were not paying attention to the scene to look up from their maps and compass work,” an unidentified investigator wrote in an internal probe obtained by the Navy Times.

    In addition, the senior medical officer at the scene told investigators that he couldn’t get a clear answer from the class instructor or the other sailors about the incident, who referred to it as “playing around.”

    “With so many different stories, I stopped the conversation and didn’t ask anyone any further questions,” the medical officer said, according to the Navy Times. “I knew that this was likely going to be investigated, and with the accounts differing so widely, they were not going to be of help in providing appropriate medical care.”

    According to Navy officials, “challenge bets” among SEAL students typically involved physical activities like burpees and pushups. However, according to a witness who spoke to investigators, the “go-to-bet” was a slap. 

    “I grew up with two brothers and we got into a lot worse situations than slapping each other,” the witness said. “I figured this was just a way to toughen us up.”

    According to the investigating officer, the Naval Special Warfare Basic Training Command should draw up rules on what types of challenge bets are appropriate in classrooms.

    However, the unnamed commander of the training program disagreed with that recommendation, the Navy Times reported.

    “This incident was caused by an instructor’s failure to follow well-defined remediation guidance,” he wrote. “A codified list of challenges will only serve to inhibit our instructor’s ability to effectively employ challenges while adding unnecessary volume to an already-clear instruction.”


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