Call it the Navy SEAL brass strikes back.
After virtually unprecedented public scrutiny of the elite force's top ranks, the outgoing commander is in the middle of a campaign to save his name, if not his career, and the incoming leader's path to the job looks clear.
Rear Adm. Tim Szymanski, named to assume command of the Naval Special Warfare headquarters in Coronado this summer, was confirmed for promotion to a second star by the Senate late last month.
That's despite questions raised by Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Alpine, a Marine Corps veteran who asked for an investigation of contracts that Szymanski played a role in earlier in his career.
Meanwhile, Rear Adm. Brian Losey, the SEAL commander slated for retirement this summer after political pressure sunk his promotion to a second star, has broken his silence about what his camp calls a deeply flawed process for investigating military wrongdoing.
"I remain fully accountable for my actions in command. The highest priority of any line commander is in ensuring that our service members have the resources, guidance and empowerment to succeed," Losey told The San Diego Union-Tribune on Saturday.
"Depending on the situation, this can require rapid adaptive change and hard work. I did what needed to be done to advance mission accomplishment in an urgent and challenging set of problems on the African continent. I learned lessons on how to do it better in the future."
The Pentagon's inspector general had found that Losey retaliated against three people who worked for him in 2011 at the special-operations component of U.S. Africa Command, headquartered in Germany.
The Navy disagreed that there was wrongdoing and pushed forward its nomination for Losey to get his second star. But after pressure this year from U.S. senators known informally as the "whistleblower caucus," the Navy secretary withdrew the intended promotion.
Coming to Losey's defense
A campaign to rehabilitate Losey's reputation has emerged in recent weeks.
Former SEAL officer Ryan Zinke, now a Republican congressman from Montana, spoke in his defense on the House floor May 13.
"Once again, an entrusted, entrenched bureaucracy was allowed to hide behind threats, hide behind whistle-blowers, hide behind rules that were intended to protect command and not to erode it," said Zinke, who called the Pentagon investigation's conclusions "cherry-picked" and flawed.
"I understand these protections are important and they are necessary, but we cannot allow such protections to go against accountability and against the sanctity of command," he added.
On the same day, a story on the Daily Beast website questioned the Pentagon investigation into Losey -- clearly using documents supplied by Navy insiders.
The Zinke and Daily Beast developments came on top of concerns raised by a past Navy SEAL and a former four-star leader of U.S. Special Operations Command, Bill McRaven.
McRaven's April 24 guest opinion piece in the Tampa Tribune -- Tampa, Florida, is home to the special-operations headquarters -- described a "disturbing trend" of politicians denigrating military leaders to further personal agendas.
He cast Losey's situation in this light.
McRaven added that if this "trend of disrespect toward the military" continues, it will discourage good people from serving in uniform -- or worse, make them too timid to render tough decisions for fear of repercussions.
Undeterred over in the House, Hunter said he will continue to scrutinize the incoming SEAL leader. Hunter is buoyed in part by the story of a retired SEAL senior chief who believes his career was tanked, and his life put in danger, after he filed an official complaint about how Szymanski and others dealt with contracts for SEAL training programs.
Teaching SEALs to fight
At issue is how SEALs are taught to fight -- including hand-to-hand combat, handling prisoners and using weapons.
For years starting in the 1990s, a civilian contractor named Duane Dieter schooled SEALs on a proprietary curriculum called Close Quarters Defense.
Enter mixed martial arts, made popular by televised Ultimate Fighting Championship bouts.
Some SEALs became practitioners and wanted to incorporate it into their own regimen. Szymanski, an officer with a career on the ascent, was reportedly one of them.
A passionate dispute arose in 2011 and continues today about what system the nation's SEALs should learn, and who should teach them -- particularly whether it should be former SEALs who go into business teaching mixed martial arts.
Underpinning this is a larger internal debate about SEALs appearing to "trade on the Trident" when they leave uniform -- something that some find distasteful.
In April, Hunter asked Defense Secretary Ashton Carter to investigate the SEAL training contracts for evidence of insider dealings by Szymanski.
The congressman, a member of the House Armed Services Committee, said he would speak out against Szymanski's rise to the top SEAL job in Coronado until he was satisfied.
His office hasn't received a response from the Pentagon.
Interviewed this month, Hunter is sticking to his demand for further investigative scrutiny.
"I'm not in the bubble. I'm not a Navy SEAL. I don't care about any of their games inside. I don't care about who gets what jobs when they get out, or who they contract with. What I get to do is say, 'What is the most effective training for you to go kill people and do your jobs?'" Hunter told The San Diego Union-Tribune.
"Guess what, I get to choose what they need because I'm a civilian leader, and that's how the military works. ... It is literally my job to care," adding that he doesn't get "blinded by the stars" when he talks to military brass.
According to one retired SEAL senior chief, the insider fight over training contracts got ugly.
Retired SEAL Eric Deming of Virginia contacted Hunter's office in April after the congressman publicly voiced opposition to Szymanski's promotion.
In a letter to Hunter, Deming said a 2008 formal complaint he filed led to reprisals that destroyed his career. The complaint alleged nepotism and misconduct in regard to promoting mixed martial arts training to the financial benefit of some SEALs and their friends.
As part of his SEAL duties, Deming was an instructor of the prior curriculum, Close Quarters Defense, and a big believer in its teachings.
"At the time I filed the fraud waste and abuse complaint, I held the rank of E-8, senior chief, and was up for promotion to E-9, master chief," Deming wrote. "I never was promoted to E-9 and was forced to retire (earlier this year) at 26 years as an E-8."
Deming alleges that in 2013, an enlisted SEAL superior whom he named in his complaint dispatched him to a particularly dangerous job at an Afghanistan operating base where two Army special-operations soldiers had died from insider attacks.
"I understood (the) decisions as intentionally placing me in harm's way, in a hope that I would be eliminated, either by getting me fired or killed," Deming wrote to Hunter.
A spokesman at the SEAL command in Coronado declined to comment on Deming's allegations.
It appears that no action was taken by the Navy as the result of Deming's 2008 complaint. The U.S. Attorney in Virginia also declined to act on a similar complaint filed by Dieter in 2011.
One SEAL officer who served with Szymanski said it's a "gross miscarriage of justice" to imply that the now-admiral tried to steer contracts.
"I did nine months in combat with the guy in Baghdad. It's not in his DNA," said Bill Wilson, who retired as a Navy SEAL captain in 2014.
Szymanski was co-author of the SEAL "Ethos," a set of personal and professional codes that Naval Special Warfare adopted in 2005, Wilson noted.
"Right when we need a good Naval Special Warfare leader, for Duncan Hunter to do this is baffling. I know all of these guys, and Tim is the best leader of all of his peer group," Wilson said.
Additionally, members of the SEAL community have said these contracting complaints -- which date back to when Hunter's father was chairman of the House Armed Services Committee -- have been thoroughly investigated without any finding of wrongdoing.
It appears that no single business won the training contracts that replaced Close Quarters Defense.
Instead, Navy officials confirm that the training is done by active-duty SEALs using in-house methods, although small contracts have been approved for additional private training.
This article was written by Jeanette Steele from The San Diego Union-Tribune and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.