FALMOUTH — It was always Kyle Milliken’s goal to become a Navy SEAL, according to college friend and teammate Brian Moles, and, by all accounts, Milliken was ready to sacrifice his life in service to his country.
This week family and friends are mourning Milliken, 38, a Falmouth native and Cheverus High School graduate and track star who was killed in action in Somalia on May 5 while supporting a Somalian army operation against the terrorist group al-Shabab.
“Kyle’s impact on people’s lives is widespread,” said Moles. All of us that knew him, ran with him, laughed with him, drank with him, trained with him – we all loved him. But I don’t think any of us knew how impactful he was,” until now.
According to Capt. Jeff Davis, a naval officer and Pentagon spokesman, two other American military members, including an interpreter, were also wounded in the raid that took Milliken’s life.
Davis said U.S. special operations troops came under fire after U.S. aircraft delivered Somali forces to the target area, a radio station operated by al-Shabab in a remote village approximately 40 miles west of Mogadishu, the Somali capital.
In his briefing last week, Davis said the U.S. troops were “a distance back” from the compound, which had been “associated with some attacks on facilities that we use and that our Somali partners use nearby.”
He added the U.S. has been working with the Somali army to counter al-Shabab since 2013 with the goal of “degrading this al-Qaida affiliate’s ability to recruit, train and plot … terror attacks.”
No obituary had been published as of Tuesday, but numerous sources, including those closest to the family, say he was married with two young children; a 5-year-old son and a 3-year-old daughter. At the time of his death Milliken was living in Virginia Beach, Virginia, and was attached to an East Coast-based special warfare unit.
Davis said Milliken’s body has been returned to the U.S., but he did not know what plans may have been made for a funeral or memorial service. A report from Houston-based TV news station KHOU indicated that Milliken’s body was transported from the African nation of Djibouti to Dover, Delaware earlier this week.
Milliken was a member of SEAL Team 6, the force that’s best known for taking out Osama bin Laden, the al-Qaida leader behind the 9/11 terrorist attacks. He also served in both Iraq and Afghanistan, earning four Bronze Stars.
In a statement released through the Navy, the Milliken family asked for privacy; no one from the family could be reached for comment.
Milliken graduated from Cheverus in 1998 and then attended the University of Connecticut, where he was a member of the track and field team. He graduated from college in 2002 and enlisted in the Navy that same summer.
In a statement released May 6, the Rev. George E. Collins, president of Cheverus, said, “The entire Cheverus High School community mourns the passing of … Kyle Milliken.”
“We offer our deepest condolences to his family, loved ones, classmates and fellow service members, and our gratitude for his brave service to our country,” Collins added. “We join his family and loved ones in celebrating his life and many accomplishments, and pray for those who have served our nation and have laid down their lives to protect and defend our freedom.”
Moles first met Milliken in 1999 while Moles was on his track and field recruiting visit to UConn.
“Kyle was my host for the night. He was extremely kind, met my mother, introduced me to the team, showed me campus, and shared his room with me that night. The next year, my freshman year, Kyle was the first upperclassman to seek me out.
“Kyle was the hardest working guy on the team. I’d argue he was the hardest working guy on any team. He worked hard because he wanted to improve himself.”
Moles said, “It was always his goal to become a SEAL. That’s why he worked so hard. He swam every morning and ran every afternoon (and) he did the extra workouts after the workout was done.”
He remembered Milliken as someone who “would offer a ride to anyone who needed it. He would listen to you vent with a non-judgmental ear. He would cheer you on, even if you were passing him in a race. That’s the guy Kyle was.”
Moles and Milliken drifted apart after Milliken graduated and joined the military, but this week Moles said hearing about Milliken’s death was like getting a kick to the gut.
“Kyle’s wife, children, parents and his closest friends are in a very difficult place and will be quite possibly forever,” Moles said.
“All we can do at this point is honor him, remember him, appreciate all he did and strive to improve ourselves so that we can be better for those around us. That was his way and that is something I will never forget.
“It’s tragic that it has taken this horrible event to help us realize (how important Kyle was), but at the same time, I will take some comfort knowing that I am where I am today in part because Kyle was so kind to me in 1999, and that my friends and the community around Kyle will band together and forge a stronger bond.”
Nathan Metivier, a friend of Milliken’s older brother Wes, said this week that Kyle Milliken was “a very caring, genuine, all-around good guy. I never once heard anyone say a bad thing about him. I remember him as someone who was always smiling and laughing.”
Metivier, who still lives in Falmouth, also remembers that Milliken was “intense and disciplined” and dedicated to becoming a SEAL and making a difference.
“I knew he was climbing the ranks, going on the search for Bin Laden and (responding to the hijacking of the) Maersk Alabama,” a cargo ship that was attacked by Somali pirates in April of 2009, Metivier said.
In a Facebook post, Daniel Wilson, another college friend of Milliken’s, said, “I’m just incredibly sad to have lost a good friend and absolutely heartbroken thinking about what his (family is) going through.”
“The best comment I can make about Kyle,” Wilson’s post added, “is that literally everyone loved him. In the classes we shared, the professors were all about him. On the team, where he was a non-scoring walk-on, he was arguably one of the most important.
“To put it simply, he was the man. Life pulls us all in different directions but nothing can break the bond that was formed over countless campus loops, sanctuary hills and time trials. (A bond that) was made stronger during hours-long weekend brunches and late-night cannon balls in the varsity pool.”
Wilson’s post continued, “I’m positive that his Navy SEAL teammates have their own versions of these rituals that will forever be incomplete without Kyle’s presence. RIP Kyle. I love you, man.”
In the official statement about Milliken’s death, Rear Admiral Timothy Szymanski, commander at the Naval Special Warfare Command, said that he “embodied the warrior spirit and toughness infused in our very best Navy SEALs.”
“We grieve his death,” Szymanski said, “but we (also) celebrate his life and many accomplishments. He is irreplaceable as a husband, father, son, friend and teammate.”
Szymanski also noted that Milliken’s death on the battlefield is “a stark reminder that Naval Special Operators” are still in harm’s way as they “confront terrorism overseas to prevent evil from reaching our shores.”
Members of Maine’s Congressional delegation also released statements following Milliken’s death in which they praised his bravery and sacrifice.
U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree called Milliken “a local hero who died … in the line of duty. We will forever be grateful for Senior Chief Milliken’s selfless service to our nation and his commitment to a cause bigger than himself.”
“Our thoughts and prayers are with the entire Milliken family and those who knew Senior Chief Millken from his early days in Falmouth,” Pingree said. “May we never forget his extraordinary bravery and incredible sacrifice.”
In their joint statement, U.S. Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King said Milliken “defended our nation with bravery and with distinction, and his sacrifice will never be forgotten. We hope that his family and loved ones are comforted in knowing that the people of Maine and our nation are eternally grateful for his selfless service.”
Speaking to the Virginian-Pilot newspaper on May 6, U.S. Rep Scott Taylor, a Republican who represents Virginia’s second district and who served with Milliken in Iraq, said, “He will be missed by all those who had the pleasure of knowing him.”
Taylor was Milliken’s instructor for marksmanship and reconnaissance and told the Pilot, “It was very clear he was going to be a standout. You knew he was going to do great things and he did. He was highly decorated and sacrificed a lot for this nation.”
On his Facebook page, Taylor added, “Kyle was a great friend, family man and teammate. He was brilliant, witty and fiercely loyal. He will be missed by all who had the pleasure of knowing him. LLTB (long live the brotherhood).”
And, in a lengthy Facebook post, Sgt. Frank Soule of the Falmouth Police Department likely summed up the feelings of many in the community when he called Milliken a hometown hero.
“Our hearts are heavy for the Milliken family’s loss,” Soule said in the post, which appeared on the police department’s official Facebook page on May 7.
“We could not be more grateful for the service of your loved one and the sacrifice of you all. Not only in his loss, (but) also in his dedication to service while living for the greater good of our country and every single one of us. He’s the real deal, let us honor him by living this (phrase): ‘Gone but not forgotten.’”
“To the Milliken family, who shared an incredible young man with an entire world, your hometown recognizes and appreciates this more than we can ever express.”
A closer look
Those wishing to pay tribute to the life and service of Senior Chief Special Warfare Operator Kyle Milliken, a Falmouth native and Navy SEAL killed in action on May 5, can make a donation in his name to the Navy Seal Foundation, whose mission is to support SEALs and their loved ones.