- The Washington Times
Sunday, April 10, 2016

A battle has begun over the choice for the next leader of naval special warfare, with the debate tied to how the command trains SEALs in basic hand-to-hand combat.

The Washington Times has obtained a copy of the Navy’s 2010 internal investigation into allegations of favoritism among SEALs looking to cash in on privately operated gyms.

At the time Naval Special Warfare Command was beginning the process of discarding a decades-old technique called Close Quarters Defense (CQD) in favor of currently in-vogue mixed martial arts (MMA).

The contract switch — to martial arts firms who train the special warfare trainers, who then teach combatants — has been engulfed in charges from CQD’s founder that a small group of SEALs went around the leadership to make MMA the way to punch, choke and subdue the enemy.

The internal Navy document obtained by The Times shows there was, in fact, wrongdoing by SEALs, including illegal fraternization in ownership of a private MMA gym. The probe found enough violations to prompt a new round of ethnics training for SEALs. But the Naval Special Warfare Command investigation concluded the violations did not influence the contract award process for CQD.

Now, on the eve of the SEALs receiving a new commander at Naval Special Warfare Command, Rep. Duncan Hunter, California Republican, has entered the arena. He sent an April 5 letter to Defense Secretary Ashton Carter demanding his office investigate the contract competition before the change of command takes place.

A staffer said Mr. Hunter plans to ask the Senate Armed Services Committee to hold off approving the promotion, from one to two stars, of Rear Adm. Timothy G. Szymanski. He is a career SEAL tapped by the Navy to replace current commander Rear Adm. Brian Losey, who is retiring.

Some in the Navy’s special warfare community are rallying behind Adm. Szymanski, a veteran of terrorist-hunting SEAL Team Six who is assistant commander of Joint Special Operations Command at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, which includes both SEAL Team Six and the Army’s secretive Delta Force.

Sources in the SEAL community said Congress has looked at Mr. Hunter’s allegations several times since 2010. Naval Special Warfare Command provided information to the Pentagon and lawmakers, and, afterwards, no further action was taken.

They say Duane Dieter, president of Close Quarters Defense Inc., is reviving the same allegations now that Adm. Szymanski, who played a role in the martial arts decision, has been announced as the next special warfare commander.

In his letter to Mr. Carter, Mr. Hunter, who is a member of the House Committee on Armed Services, said the Pentagon needs to investigate whether a group of active and retired SEALs conspired to push CQD out of the way so that mixed martial arts contractors could cash in.

“I have concerns with the process for considering and awarding the contracts that have led to the removal of CQD from SEAL training,” he wrote.

The probe should look at “any personal interests and relationships that could have created conflicts of interests in the selection process,” he wrote.

Mr. Hunter, a former Marine Corps officer, said the Pentagon inspector general did a spot-check of Naval Special Warfare Command contracts last year. The IG found that nine of 35 service contracts did not comply with federal acquisition regulations. It did not look at MMA contracts.

Navy public affairs officers declined to comment on Mr. Hunter’s letter.

‘Word-of-mouth’ rumor

Two camps in the SEAL community clearly are split between CQD and MMA aficionados. Where the truth lies — who is right and who is wrong — is still debated.

On the Close Quarters Defense side, Mr. Dieter, the technique’s inventor, told The Times he is the victim of a behind-the-scenes smear.

First, he said, his company, based in Trappe, Maryland, won the 2009 competition to stick with his elaborate system for close-in fighting, teaching how to operate firearms and deal physical punishment.

“We won at the highest level,” he said for a new contract that could reach $400,000 for all the SEAL teams.

Yet SEAL units suddenly stopped asking for his trainers, he said. Before long SEAL units were switching to MMA courses operated by former SEALs.

Second, he said, SEAL advocates of MMA conducted what he called an unauthorized deficiency report on his tactics that unfairly sullied its reputation from the West Coast to the East Coast. He said command leaders did not OK the project and were surprised when he told them about it.

One of the report’s authors was then-Capt. Timothy Szymanski.

“People and the operators still reach out to me to train them,” Mr. Dieter said. “A small number of people put their personal agendas and businesses above the welfare of the operators.”

Angel Naves is a retired chief petty officer SEAL who was a CQD lead instructor at the beachside command in San Diego before retiring in 2005. He now has a license from Mr. Dieter to teach his course.

Mr. Naves said the leaders never abandoned CQD until SEAL-connected MMA gyms started opening.

“MMA is fun to watch and a fun hobby for many,” he said. “But it is a sport and does not relate to the operational environment. It’s not relevant to the tactical environment. A few guys who like MMA and are affiliated with business have created a word-of-mouth rumor that the teams don’t want CQD and that everyone wants to do MMA, which is not true.”

The Naval Special Warfare Command’s legal office investigated Mr. Dieter’s complaints in 2010. Then-commander Rear Adm. Edward G. Winters sent his report to U.S. Special Operations Command.

Ethics training called for

The report is titled “Inquiry Into the Alleged Conduct of Service Members in Efforts to Procure Mixed Martial Arts Training for Naval Special Warfare Personnel.”

Adm. Winters concluded that personnel drafted “what became known as the ‘CQD Outside Agencies Deficiencies Report,’” saying he found “nothing to suggest that this document was created with improper intent.”

Mr. Dieter alleged that the report found its way outside Naval Special Warfare Command, thus injuring CQD’s reputation.

Adm. Winters specifically found that then-Capt. Szymanski did not circulate the CQD report to other government agencies and had no knowledge who may have done so.

The report also found that an active-duty officer violated the military fraternization policy by co-owning a business, Throwdown Elite Training Center, with an enlisted person. The officer also violated the Uniform Code of Military Justice by providing a false statement to investigators.

Adm. Winters said there was “nothing to suggest” the business negatively influenced contract decisions about Mr. Dieter’s firm.

In another instance, an officer on the Technical Evaluation Board, which evaluated CQD’s and other firms’ contract solicitations in 2009, violated the Procurement Integrity Act. The officer had provided inaccurate information to his commanding officer, and Adm. Winters said the wrongdoing was resolved by canceling the solicitation.

As a corrective measure amid the SEAL institutional debate over CQD vs. MMA at private gyms, Adm. Winter decreed in 2010 that no special warfare command funds may be spent on “mixed martial arts training hobbyist or sport fighting/tournament style combatives.”

The probe also prompted Adm. Winters to order a new round of ethics training.

“As a result of this inquiry, Naval Special Warfare Center provided command-wide ethics training on gifts, conflict of interest, misuse of position, outside employment, fundraising, fraternization, post-government employment, and general standards of conduct,” he wrote. “Ethics training continues to be provided regularly at all Naval Special Warfare commands.”

Evolving tactics, techniques

Sources connected to the SEAL community defend the switch to MMA.

“The SEALs feel they know best how to train their force better than contractors who had not had the benefit of years of actual close quarters engagements with the enemy,” one source told The Times. “The bottom line: Combat styles and requirements for training evolved beyond Dieter’s techniques alone.”

This source also said that mixed martial arts does not fully connote what the SEALs are taught because people immediately think of no-holds-barred cage matches. The courses are a blend of jiujitsu, Muay Thai kickboxing, grappling, boxing, judo and other fighting arts.

“If I walked you on the fighting mat with the SEALs, they are not doing MMA-style Ultimate Fighting cage matches,” the officer said. “They are doing something that looks like any other military fighting style.”

This officer described Adm. Szymanski as a “fantastic officer and bad-ass fighter.”

A retired senior officer said he was on active duty when CQD first arrived at training bases.

“But that was 20 years ago, and SEALs have been in combat for much of the interim,” the retired SEAL said. “Tactics and techniques have evolved to meet the changing conditions downrange.

“SEALs have always searched out the best techniques and equipment, whether for shooting, parachuting, attack swimming, cross-country movement, field medicine, survival or mountaineering, and adapted them to meet their mission sets. There is no reason for hand-to-hand combat to be any different,” he said.

Adm. Losey, the outgoing Naval Special Warfare commander, also has received congressional scrutiny.

The Republican and Democratic leaders of the Senate Armed Services Committee wrote a letter to Navy Secretary Ray Mabus in January saying the committee would not have approved Adm. Losey’s nomination to two-star rank in 2011, citing an inspector general report that found Adm. Losey unlawfully retaliated against whistleblowers in a previous command.

Sens. John McCain and Jack Reed urged Mr. Mabus not to sustain Adm. Losey’s two-star rank.

The Navy Times reported last month that Mr. Mabus decided not to award Adm. Losey two stars, a promotion placed on hold while the IG conducted its investigation.

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