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UConn Run & Ruck Continues to Honor Milliken’s Legacy

By Phil Chardis

Special to

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STORRS, Conn. – Whether it was his teammates on his high school track team in Maine, his teammates on the UConn track team, or his teammates on Navy SEAL Team 6, Kyle Milliken was always about making the team better – creating a lasting impression using his quick wit, abundant charm and tireless work ethic.

Though the highly-decorated combat veteran was tragically killed in action in East Africa on May 5, 2017, many of those teammates have made sure that his impression – and legacy -- lives on. The Kyle Milliken Memorial Golf Tournament was established soon after Milliken's death in 2017 to benefit families of fallen heroes and the Navy SEAL Foundation. Then, in 2019, Kyle's wife Erin created the Kyle Milliken Foundation in an effort to provide the same support to other Gold Star families. Gold Star families are families left behind when service members are killed in battle.

Meanwhile, at UConn, the track and field team also took steps to honor their fallen alum. Milliken, who joined the UConn track team as a walk-on freshman in 1997 and graduated with a degree in Communications in 2002, used to taunt his SEAL teammates that they could not handle a UConn track workout, especially a workout that included a "Bonemill" run – a difficult five-mile loop that includes Bone Mill Road, between the Storrs campus and the Depot campus. In September, 2017, Milliken's SEAL Team came to Storrs and joined with the 2017-18 men's track and cross country teams to run the Bonemill in Kyle's memory. In addition, a memorial fund was established at UConn to provide scholarship support to men's track and field student-athletes who best exemplify the commitment and spirit of Milliken. The Kyle Milliken Memorial Fund also provides financial support for special capital projects that benefit the men's track and field program.

"Kyle made the track team as a walk-on through his work ethic and perseverance," said Rich Miller, the associate head coach for UConn track and field, currently in his 27th year with the program. "He was somebody who was a team-first person. He was invested in his own goals, but also the goals of his teammates. He made everybody else around him better with his presence. He was a very personable person – honest and straightforward. He was a nose-to-the-grindstone worker and that's what allowed him to reach the high levels that he did, both in college and outside of college.

"Kyle was a true-blue, bleed blue guy. Track and field was a huge part of him and a big part of why he developed the skills that he would go on to use as a Navy SEAL. In his senior year, he was forthright about his dream to become a Navy SEAL and began his

personal training toward that goal while still with our program. He just embodied our program from a work ethic and a high-character standpoint."

The Milliken Memorial Run has been held every year since, but the event is about to become bigger and better, starting with this year's run, scheduled for Sunday, Nov. 12. The Hartford Marathon Foundation has partnered with the event, which has been renamed the UConn Run And Ruck and will offer a 10K run (starts at 8:31 a.m.), a 5K run/walk (8:30 a.m.), an untimed 1 mile (8:31 a.m.) and a Kids Run (10:15 a.m.), all starting and ending in the heart of UConn's Storrs campus. All the courses will pass by the Ultimate Sacrifice Memorial on UConn's Great Lawn, where a Blackhawk helicopter will land during the event. An awards ceremony and post-race festivities will take place outside the UConn Student Recreation Center.

Taking place during Veterans Day weekend, the event will still honor Milliken as well as all those who have served. Through UConn's Office of Veterans Affairs and Military Programs, proceeds will provide scholarships for military and veteran students as well as benefit the Kyle Milliken Fund.

"The Run has really evolved," Miller explained. "In the early years, it was very much a memorial service as a lot of us were grieving the loss of Kyle and everything he represented. Then, I think it evolved into remembrance of Kyle. It was a way of thinking of it and a way for us to gather and remember him and his legacy. Now, it's just continuing to grow and allowing more and more people to come into the events."

Kyle Milliken was clearly a special person and a hero in every sense of the word. He rose to the rank of Navy Special Warfare Operator Senior Chief Petty Officer over some 10 deployments as a Navy SEAL and earned over 30 medals and commendations, including five Bronze Stars with Valor for tours in Iraq and Afghanistan and a Silver Star (posthumously) for heroic action in combat. He was killed in a raid on the terror group al-Shabab, operating some 40 miles outside Mogadishu, the capital of Somalia, in East Africa. At 38 years old, it was to be Milliken's last deployment as he was pursuing his master's degree at William and Mary. He left behind Erin and their two young children.

"Both Veterans Affairs and Military Programs here on campus have been partnering with us right from the beginning and they are able to really step in and be a big part of this. Our Rec Department has also partnered with us from the very beginning," Miller said. "Everybody wants to 1) share Kyle's story and 2) create an event that can continue to grow as we move toward the generations ahead. We're very excited about the Hartford Marathon Foundation and their involvement this year. They have really grabbed on to the concepts we have here and really bought into sharing Kyle's story as well as bringing more people to UConn."