UConn, fellow SEALs celebrate life of former Husky Kyle Milliken
By JOHN ALTAVILLA | The Hartford Courant (Tribune News Service) | Published: September 17, 2017
There once was a place on the edge of the UConn campus called Bone Mill. There workers would grind animal bones into fertilizer. But it's gone now, laid to waste adjacent to an old cemetery along the road that adds a level of eeriness to things to the area.
For the UConn men's track and field program, generations stretching back decades, Bone Mill still lives and looms. It's the place on their training route that best tests intestinal fortitude. There are hills and slopes, the kind of terrain that taunts the middle- and long-distance runner. How can it be that bad, they think? And then they find out.
"It's challenging, but it's like anything else in life; you challenge yourself," said Greg Roy, UConn's venerable men's track and field coach. "It has a couple of pretty tough hills, and it's the perfect [feature] on a 5-mile run. The runners here have run Bone Mill forever, and I've been here for 33 years. The middle and distance runners measure themselves in accordance to what they ran on Bone Mill. It's a UConn standard."
When he was at UConn, Kyle Milliken loved to run Bone Mill. He ran it with pace and verve, unafraid of how it would make his legs and lungs cramp when he was finished, daring his teammates to keep up with him.
"As a coach, you are not always a fly on the wall on these runs," Roy said. "Kyle came to us as a 400-meter guy who stretched himself to the 800 meters. So he'd go out with a bunch of 400-meter guys and run Bone Mill, and the next thing you know everyone is trying to keep up with Kyle."
By his senior year, he was running it with heavy weights strapped to his back. Always pushing himself to extraordinary lengths. That was Kyle Milliken.
"The Bone Mill run is kind of a famous training course for the men's track and field team," said Sara Sykes, who met Milliken, Class of 2002, when they were in college. "Everyone had to run it when they returned from the summer, timed in the process. It tricks you because it's hilly, and once you believe you are done with the worst of it, then all of a sudden you are not. It's legendary. Kyle ran it many times and really pushed all of his teammates to be better running that course."
On Saturday at UConn, bathed in the sunshine and warmth of a late summer afternoon, they all ran Bone Mill again, this time not with Kyle Milliken but because of him.
On May 5, Milliken, by then a 15-year veteran senior chief special warfare operator with the elite SEAL 6 team, was killed in East Africa during an operation against terrorist group al-Shabab.
According to the state department, Milliken, 38, a native of Falmouth, Maine, was killed in a remote area of Somalia, about 40 miles west of Mogadishu, when his team came under fire from fighters who were operating a radio station.
Milliken's SEAL Team 6 was the unit credited with killing Osama bin Laden in 2011, and he had earned four Bronze Stars in Iraq and Afghanistan. He was the first U.S. service member killed in action in Somalia since the 1993 Battle of Mogadishu, an event that inspired the book and later Hollywood film, "Black Hawk Down."
"What would I say that might describe Kyle? Loyalty," Sykes said. "Kyle and I met at UConn through a mutual friend. We were in a lot of the same classes. We had the same major [communications]. And he ultimately introduced me to my future husband [Trevor Sykes]. They ran track together at UConn. Kyle and I graduated in 2002, Trevor in 2001. Kyle was just always there for us. He was just a wonderful friend, so supportive, a constant in our lives."
As you might expect, the UConn track community is grieving for Milliken and his family. Initially unsure of what to do, Sykes and her husband, along with former UConn track star Joe Mendel, worked with Roy to organize a 5-mile run on campus to honor their friend's memory.
"Kyle was a special guy. We grew a very tight bond, both with each other and as a team," Mendel said. "Kyle was the epitome of loyalty. We felt like not honoring him [wasn't appropriate], and giving the younger guys [in the UConn program] the chance to understand what he meant to us was the thing to do.
"Not to do something that would enable his name to live on was not right. It makes complete sense to honor him and to have the young guys today and those who will come after them understand what UConn track and field is about and what type of athlete we recruit and produce. It's going to mean something to earn the Kyle Milliken memorial scholarship, and we are very excited about it."
To that point, a Kyle Milliken Memorial Fund has been established at UConn to provide scholarship support to men's track and field student-athletes who exemplify the commitment and spirit of Milliken.
The fund will also provide financial support for special capital projects that benefit the men's track and field program as well as other programmatic enhancements.
The event itself attracted a vast collection of runners, ranging from current UConn athletes to alumni to those who just came to run in Milliken's honor. Organizers estimated the crowd at about 300.
There was a contingent of Navy SEALS who had served with Milliken and a large crowd of young candidates for the SEALS program, one carrying an American flag.
"We just want this to be about Kyle and his family," said one SEAL who did not want to be identified.
"I've learned a lot about him over the last few months. He served our country well," UConn track captain Greg Hunter said. "The alumni network that this program has exceeds anything you could anticipate. Just to see how many people came out here today to show their support was wonderful."
The first runner to finish the course was Ken Goglas of New Jersey, who was a teammate of Milliken's.
"It was very nostalgic. We did this countless times when we were in college," Goglas said. "I'm the only one in the group that's still fit, so I figured I would hold it down for the old guys. If I was going to be out here running, I figured I might as well make it hurt like it did in college."
Following the run, there was a reception at the UConn Alumni Center that included a memorial and testimonial in Milliken's honor.
"The response was so wonderful," Sara Sykes said. "We had people reach out to us from near and far, people who knew Kyle who have come out and expressed their support and condolences. It's been overwhelming, so wonderful. Runners from all over Connecticut participated, many of whom didn't even know Kyle, which for me is the most important part of this. The entire reason we are doing this is to honor Kyle. I do not want his memory to fade."
Mendel, who once was Milliken's roommate, came from his home in North Jersey with his family.
"As confident as Kyle was, he was also a pretty reserved guy," Mendel said. "When you are in college, you don't think about those things [the future]. We were just as competitive as hell. We loved the chance to make each other better. But I had no doubt that whatever Kyle set his mind on that he would be as successful as he was.
"We kept up as much as we could over the years, probably not as much as we would have liked. But the thing about our bond we created at UConn, what makes it special, is that we didn't have to see each other every day, but when we do, it's like old times.
"My fondest memory of Kyle is two-fold. One was just how tough he was and how he made everybody better. And then, it was how gentle he was in making sure that everyone around him felt comfortable."
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