Society

Dad Of SEAL Trainee Who Committed Suicide Seeks Changes

| by Kathryn Schroeder
Danny DelBiancoDanny DelBianco

The father of a man who committed suicide after dropping out of Navy SEAL training during Hell Week wants changes made to the program.

Danny DelBianco, 23, a former rugby player at the University of Southern California, appeared to be ready for Navy SEAL Hell Week training, after completing the obstacle course and other physical elements on the first try, NBC News reports.

“He was excited and very confident,” his father, Steve DelBianco said.

Steve’s visit with Danny in California two months ago was the last time he saw his son alive.

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After 50 hours without sleep and a series of punishing drills, Danny could not handle any more. He rang the ceremonial bell and dropped out of SEAL training. He placed his helmet next to those of other drop-outs and went to the barracks.

Danny did not sleep after dropping out, or contact any of his family members or fiancee.

He drove to the Marriott Gaslamp Hotel in San Diego and sat alone in the Altitude Sky Lounge, which was closed at the time, for a few hours. A manager saw him on an empty bar table next to a railing overlooking the street. When the manager saw him stand up on the bar, he tried to talk to him but received no response.

Before the manager could make a call, Danny stepped off the ledge.

The autopsy report found no drugs or alcohol in his system.

It was the first time in SEAL history a trainee committed suicide.

His family is heartbroken, Steve said.

It is not uncommon for SEAL drop-outs to experience mental health issues. About 80 percent of the men who attempt the Navy’s Basic Underwater Demolition/SEALs training, or BUD/S, do not pass. They may remain in the Navy, but some are never the same after experiencing the brutal training that can cause symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, according to former SEALs and trainees.

Steve wants to know why his son was allowed to leave the base three hours after dropping out, given the fact that he was sleep-deprived and physically-drained.

“Danny was extremely frustrated, disappointed and regretted his decision,” Steve said. “That was the frame of mind he was in.”

The Navy has responded to Danny's suicide by instituting a new policy of supervising drop-outs for 24 hours.

“When an unsupervised student left the base and took his own life during Hell Week, we took swift action to assess our processes and make changes where needed,” a Naval Special Warfare spokesman said in a statement.

Some former SEALs and trainees think counseling for drop-outs should also be made available.

“Your social network, and all of your friends that you’ve had for the last couple months, in a moment, are gone,” Jamie Monroe, a former SEAL who now coaches potential trainees, said, noting those things are the toughest parts about quitting.

“Because now you represent something that they don’t want to be. And so it’s very, very hard for the average person to deal with that fact, and there is a lot of grief.”

“A lot of them have defined their entire identity as being a SEAL,” he added. “They don’t make the cut and now they feel like they are a failure.”

Danny’s lifelong dream of becoming a Navy SEAL is featured in his obituary on Dignity Memorial.

It reads in part:

“Danny DelBianco died following a rigorous training exercise in California on Tuesday April 5, while pursuing his lifelong dream of becoming a Navy SEAL...

From an early age, Danny talked about becoming a Navy SEAL. Earlier this year, Danny wrote this answer to the question, "Why do I want to become a SEAL?"

I want to be a part of a type-A community.

I want to feel like I belong because I've earned the right to belong.

I want to do something special. 

My life won't feel complete unless I do this.

Every time I read about or see pictures of SEALs, I feel motivated 

The experience will shape and define the rest of my life. 

I want to do something exciting and feel like I'm actually living. 

I want to be pushed to my limits and find what I'm capable of. 

All of this is elevated by the fact that I'm defending a country that i believe is the best on earth for providing a safe environment full of opportunity and personal liberty.”

Steve is seeking a commitment from the Navy that the drop-out monitoring policy cannot be overturned by the commander in charge of the training, but by a supervising officer one level above.​

The Navy has yet to commit to that regulation.

Sources: NBC News, Dignity Memorial / Photo credit: DelBianco family via NBC News

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