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Navy commander removed from job early after death of SEAL candidate last year

The Pentagon is seen on November 29, 2022 in Arlington, Virginia. The U.S. military on Thursday shot down a Turkish drone that had come in too close to U.S. troops on the ground in Hasakah, Syria. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

 (CNN) — A Navy commander reprimanded over the death of a SEAL candidate last year has been removed from his job early, according to two Navy officials, as the Navy prepares to release a broader investigation into the notoriously difficult SEAL training course.

Capt. Brian Drechsler, who served as commander of Naval Special Warfare Center, was relieved in a change of command ceremony on Tuesday, the Navy said. The change of command came two months early for Drechsler, an official said, who was one of three Navy officers to receive administrative action after the death of Navy SEAL candidate Kyle Mullen in February 2022.

In a brief statement Tuesday, the Navy made no mention of Mullen. “Capt. Mark Burke relieved Capt. Brian Drechsler as commander of the Naval Special Warfare Center (NSWCEN),” the Navy said. Naval Special Warfare Center’s mission includes the “assessment, selection, and training of SEALs and [Special Warfare Combatant-Craft Crewmen].”

One of the officials said Drechsler is expected to retire soon.

Mullen, 24, died of bacterial pneumonia in the hours after completing what is known as “Hell Week” during the special operations force’s demanding basic training program. In the 24 hours before he completed his training, Mullen had breathing issues and coughing up fluid, but he was not pulled from training or sent to a hospital upon the course’s completion.

Navy investigators concluded Mullen died in the “line of duty, not due to his own misconduct,” Naval Special Warfare Command said in a statement at the conclusion of a line of duty investigation in October.

A separate, broader investigation into the grueling SEALs selection course is expected soon, one of the Navy officials said.

Initiated by the previous Vice Chief of Naval Operations, Adm. William Lescher, the investigation is examining oversight of the most difficult and punishing elements of the SEALs selection course, including a look at the use of performance-enhancing drugs within basic training to complete the course.

Mullen’s death drew increased scrutiny of the policies, staff preparation and safety measures around one of the military’s most elite units.