April 7 UPDATE: 10 On Your Side reached out to the Navy for an update on the final safety report. They said it could be another six months to a year before it is complete.
VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) — The commanding officer of SEAL Team 8 has died following an incident during training.
Military officials tell 10 On Your Side that 43-year-old Cmdr. Brian Bourgeois died on Dec. 7 at Sentara Norfolk General Hospital after sustaining injuries during training on Saturday in Virginia Beach.
Bourgeois leaves behind his wife and five children.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with the Bourgeois family – and we will ensure our community remains in support of and in relationship with Brian’s family and his children, for life,” said Rear Adm. H.W. Howard III, commander, Naval Special Warfare Command. “Brian was one of our very best leaders, who possessed all the attributes that make our force effective. We will miss his charismatic leadership and faithful stewardship of our standard. His legacy carries on in teammates he served with, led, and mentored.”
The U.S. Naval Special Warfare Command confirmed to WAVY TV there is an ongoing command and safety investigation into the incident.
Initial indications show that the tragedy occurred during a fast-rope training evolution.
Fast-roping is a technique in which SEAL teams descend down a 1.57-inch rope from helicopters. It is quicker than rappelling; however, it’s more challenging because the military member is usually carrying a heavy load of equipment.
It is useful today for deploying personnel from a helicopter that cannot touch down, such as quickly boarding a ship underway at sea.
SEAL team members hold onto the rope with gloved hands and slide down 15-40 feet of rope, depending on the aircraft’s hovering height.
This procedure is designed to allow several members to slide down a rope simultaneously – with a gap of about 10 feet between people.
The SEAL Team 8 executive officer has temporarily assumed command.
“We are working with SEAL Team 8 to provide every form of support we possibly can to Brian’s family and teammates,” said Capt. Donald G. Wetherbee, commodore, Naval Special Warfare Group 2. “An incident like this weighs heavily on us all. Brian was as tough as they come, an outstanding leader, and a committed father, husband and friend. This is a great loss to everyone who knew him. He will be greatly missed.”
SEAL Team 8 is part of Naval Special Warfare Group Two based out of Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek-Fort Story. They have a geographic concentration in the Caribbean, Africa and the Mediterranean.
They deploy platoons with carrier battle groups (CVBGs) and amphibious ships in support of Second, Fifth, and Sixth Fleet commanders, and conduct DFTs throughout the Caribbean, Africa and the Mediterranean littoral.
Bourgeois received his commission from the United States Naval Academy in May 2001 and served the Navy and Naval Special Warfare community for over 20 years.
During his time at the Naval Academy, he was a four-year member of the Navy football team and earned three varsity letters. In his honor, the team will run out with a SEAL Team 8 flag along with the traditional American, Navy and Marine Corps flags at their game vs. Army on December 11.
The U.S. Naval Academy Alumni Association and Foundation shared this statement:
The U.S. Naval Academy Alumni Association and Foundation expresses its sincere condolence for the loss of Commander Brian Bourgeois, U.S. Naval Academy Class of 2001, on December 7th from injuries sustained in a training accident three days prior.
Our alumni community feels the pain of loss of each of its members, especially so when the loss occurs in the line of duty. Brian’s class was the last to graduate before the attacks of September 11th put our Nation on war footing, and Brian and his classmates spent nearly their entire careers in harm’s way.
Our Navy Hymn provides the words so many of us feel in these moments – “O hear us when we cry to thee, For those in peril on the sea!” We join in grief with Brian’s family.U.S. Naval Academy Alumni Association and Foundation
There will be a No. 13 home blue jersey adorned with two SEAL Team 8 patches placed prominently on the Navy sideline, and senior wide receiver Michael Salisbury and sophomore wide receiver Jayden Umbarger will wear SEAL Team 8 patches on their uniform. The patches were given to Navy wide receivers coach Mick Yokitis, a 2006 Naval Academy graduate, by Bourgeois earlier this year.
Cmdr. Brian Bourgeois’ full list of awards and decorations include:
- Bronze Star (w/Combat “V”)
- Defense Meritorious Service Medal (2)
- Joint Service Commendation Medal
- Navy/Marine Corps Commendation Medal (2)
- Navy/Marine Corps Achievement Medal (2)
- Combat Action Ribbon
- National Defense Service Medal
- Iraq Campaign Medal
- Global War on Terrorism Service Medal
- Sea Service Deployment Ribbon
- Rifle Expert
- Pistol Expert
In his free time, Bourgeois was active in the community and volunteered for several organizations, including:
- Navy SEAL Foundation: The Navy SEAL Foundation is a nonprofit organization that was established in 2000. It provides more than 30 programs to SEALS, special warfare crew, and their families. Their goal is to keep SEALS strong and healthy as they serve and to transition them into successful careers in the civilian world. They also provide supports to families.
- Marine Corps Scholarship Foundation: This organization provides need-based scholarships to military children.
- U.S. Naval Academy Alumni Association and Foundation: This organization provides need-based scholarships to military children.
- Brendan Looney Foundation: On Sept. 21, 2010, Lt. SEAL Brendan Looney and 8 other Americans died in a helicopter accident in Afghanistan during Operation Enduring Freedom. His mother launched the foundation to provide scholarships for camps and higher education for military children. They’ve provided nearly $100k for these scholarships.
He was also active with his children, including his daughters’ volleyball teams. South East Region Volleyball (SERV) released the following statement after Bourgeois’ death:
Brian and his family were an integral part of the Volleyball community in the Hampton Roads area. They were strong supporters of both their daughters’ teams, and Brian was always the first one to volunteer for a task or jump up to climb the bleachers to fetch a stray game ball (as seen in the picture) so the play could continue.
Having both daughters on two teams, he still managed to juggle work/life/family and show support for all his children; and was very patient as we maneuvered through all the changing COVID restrictions and public tensions in Richmond, one of our primary tournament locations.
The “All In All The Time Foundation,” a non-profit which provides immediate response to the needs of the Naval Special Warfare community, has created a Bourgeois Family Fund. Go to this link to make a donation in support of the family. There’s also a GoFundMe page for the family, and a Facebook fundraiser organized by the Navy Football Brotherhood Inc.