March 14, 2008 By Louis Hansen, The Virginian-Pilot
In the wake of six recent SEAL training and combat deaths, the Naval Special Warfare community stood down Thursday to re-evaluate its safety practices.
About 5,600 sailors worldwide participated, including several thousand SEALs, special boat crews and staff members based at Little Creek Naval Amphibious Base and Dam Neck Annex.
Lt. Steve Ruh, a spokesman for Naval Special Warfare in San Diego, said the review would allow the community to assess safety procedures during training and combat.
Presentations included reviews of the recent incidents and safety guidelines for on- and off-duty sailors, Ruh said.
"Safety doesn't just happen in uniform," he said.
Naval Special Warfare commander Rear Adm. Joseph Kernan ordered the review on March 4 after SEAL Chief Petty Officer Lance Vaccaro, based in Virginia Beach, died of injuries suffered during parachute training in Arizona.
Most Naval Special Warfare commands, including those based in Virginia Beach, decided to halt operations Thursday, Ruh said.
Senior Chief Petty Officer Thomas Valentine was also killed during a parachute accident in Arizona, on Feb. 13. Vaccaro and Valentine both performed their training from Pinal Airpark near Marana, Ariz., a longtime training spot for the SEALs.
The two incidents appear to be unrelated, Ruh said. Investigations into both deaths are continuing.
Four other SEALs have died in training and combat since December:
*Chief Petty Officer Mark Carter, 27, from California and based at Dam Neck, died in combat in Iraq on Dec. 11.
*Petty Officer 2nd Class Alex Ghane, based in San Diego, was struck and killed by live fire during training in Mississippi on Jan. 30.
*Chief Petty Officers Nathan Hardy and Michael Koch, both 29, died in combat in Iraq in early February.
Ruh denied that the high tempo of Naval Special Warfare operations, with SEALs making multiple deployments to the Middle East and training for deployments at sites around the country, has affected the safety or stamina of the teams. "Not at all," Ruh said. "These guys enjoy what they do every day."