NJ family seeks answers to death of Navy SEAL candidate

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MANALAPAN – Snow covered the Manalapan High School football pitch on Sunday morning. It was still falling as six of Kyle Mullen’s former teammates and a few family members came to pay their respects.

They came to talk about Kyle, reminisce about the good times, share the pain of losing him and say a prayer at the memorial they built on the 44-yard line – in honor of the No. 44 Kyle wore as the Brave. captain.

Mullen, 24, is the former Manalapan High School football star who died Feb. 4 shortly after completing the most arduous phase of the Navy SEAL selection process known as “Hell Week.”

Condolences poured in from across the country. Many of his former teammates from the 2014 Championship side Manalapan have spent just about every day of the past week getting together, both on the pitch and at the home of Mullen’s mother and brother.

“He was larger than life,” said Jim Wehringer, an uncle. “Even now it’s just amazing to see the outpouring of love for him. It’s touched everyone across the country, not just in his neighborhood.

Larger than life. It was a common refrain at Sunday’s meeting. There were others.

“Kyle was the light in the room,” former teammate Nick Surfhoff said.

“He was the heart and soul of Manalapan,” former teammate John Cheung said.

Death of Kyle Mullen: NJ lowers flags, Manalapan HS retires jersey after Kyle Mullen’s death in SEAL ‘Hell Week’

Mullen died hours after finishing Hell Week in San Diego. The Navy is still investigating the cause. Hell Week is a 5.5 day test for the BUD/S class of SEALs which involves underwater demolition, survival and combat tactics. It comes in week four of the selection process for Naval Special Warfare Basic Training Command. A majority of candidates do not finish the week.

Mullen’s death raised questions about the Hell Week process. In an interview with Asbury Park Press last week, a Navy SEAL candidate who did not complete Hell Week in 2021 described his own experience in traumatic terms. He said he was left unattended by medical staff in a classroom for hours after being removed from training.

The candidate, whose name is withheld due to the sensitive nature of the case, said he had to go to a nearby hospital, where he remained for five days with multiple serious conditions.

“Kyle knew what he was getting into,” Jim Wehringer said. “We have no problem with any of the training they provide; it’s the best of the best. However, the concern of the family is that after going through the week from hell, you should take care of them. They need to be watched, an IV in their arm, their vital signs checked. If it hasn’t been done – I don’t know if it was – that’s the problem.

Sharing Kyle Stories

On Sunday, everyone had a Kyle Mullen story to share.

“Kyle and I fished a lot and we always managed to catch big tuna,” said former teammate Jayson Rybak. “One time we went out there, a nice day but we didn’t catch any fish, I said, ‘Hey Kyle, I would like us to catch some fish today.’ He said: ‘Look, it’s not about the fish. We had a great time together.

The words stayed with Rybak.

“If I ever go on a fishing trip again and I’m skunk, not catching any fish, I’ll be thinking of Kyle,” Rybak said. “He was 23 and had this perspective: It’s not about the fish, it’s about the trip.

Former teammate Peter Williams recalled carpooling to Manalapan High with Mullen.

“At 6 a.m. he was still up and ready to go for the day,” Williams said. “My mother used to let him in (the house) so he could wake me up.”

Surhoff’s family moved out of town a while ago, and he wasn’t thrilled about it. Mullen visited him for a pep talk.

“He always knew how to move someone’s day forward if they were down,” Surhoff said.

Says former teammate Tom Caballero, “Kyle was the kind of kid who, if you didn’t talk to him for a few days or a week, he would show up at your door to see how you were doing.”

As former teammate Joe Mendez said, “The way he handled life was always with a smile, always with his head held high.”

Kyle’s cousin, Brett Wehringer, a junior who plays baseball at Ranney School in Tinton Falls, practiced with Mullen before Kyle joined the Navy. They would run the hills from Thompson Park to Monroe, whatever the weather.

“We would in mid-January,” Brett Wehringer said. “It was crazy to see how much work he put in for what he wanted to do. It inspired me. As he was training for his departure and I was training for my season, he inspired me. showed what it takes to be great – he had that in him.

“He was the strongest person, physically and mentally, that I know.”

Brett recorded a particularly poignant text from Kyle that he watches every day.

“The pain you feel with every workout, physical pain will heal and make you stronger,” it read. “But the pain of knowing you gave up or didn’t work hard enough will last forever.”

Leaning on each other

On the Manalapan soccer field, at the 44-yard line, Mullen’s friends planted a large American flag, complete with floodlights, and several smaller ones. They painted “44” and the initials “KM” on the frozen grass.

They come here more or less daily. On Sunday no one cared that it was snowing with the temperature in the 20s.

“It’s definitely helped us be together every day since it happened,” Surhoff said.

Williams traveled 85 miles (one way) from her home in West Chester, Pennsylvania.

“I tried to stay away (for a day), but there was too much void that could only be filled by this brotherhood,” he said.

When asked how they were dealing with what happened, Caballero said no.

“I think we are still in shock,” he said. “Right now we’re trying to live off of those memories that we have with Kyle. You would never dwell on the negative with Kyle because he wouldn’t let you.

That’s easier said than done, of course.

“It’s hard to get over it,” Dan Callandrillo said, fighting back tears.

Callandrillo, who is widely known as a former All-American basketball player at Seton Hall University and was the 1982 Big East Conference Player of the Year, was Regina Mullen’s boyfriend for a few years and considered Kyle his son. When Kyle was winding down his college football career at Monmouth University after transferring from Yale, he stayed with Callandrillo at Long Branch.

“Kyle was always full of life,” Callandrillo said. “When he told me he wanted to pursue (becoming a SEAL), I said, ‘Serving this country is the greatest thing you can do. I said, ‘I’m so proud of you.’ But I said you could be a bus driver, I don’t care, I love you like you were my son.

Callandrillo said he texted Mullen twice a week while he served in the Navy, sending him prayers and encouragement.

“It breaks my heart,” he said. “I feel bad that the whole family is going through this. It’s a big family.

It was Callandrillo who organized the Sunday rally at the school and invited the Asbury Park Press. He felt it was important to chronicle what Kyle meant to everyone in his circle.

He also contacted Seton Hall and arranged a tribute to Mullen during the Pirates’ last men’s basketball home game, against Georgetown on March 2. He will be there, along with former teammates and family members.

“I appreciate the university going above and beyond for this,” Callandrillo said.

“Can you prevent this from happening? »

Funeral arrangements are still pending. In the meantime, Kyle’s friends are doing what they can for his mother and brother. They are home almost every day. Many others also passed by, bringing food and flowers.

“It’s very, very difficult,” said Jim Wehringer, the uncle. “Everyone feels like it’s just a bad dream. Nothing will ever be the same without him. »

While awaiting the results of the Navy’s investigation, they hope Kyle’s death will not be in vain.

“Something (Regina Mullen) said to us when we were at her house last weekend, ‘You can’t bring my son back, but can you prevent this from happening in the future?'” Brett said. Wehringer. “Right now she’s going through a lot, but that would be her main concern.”

Jim Wehringer added, “We hope in his name something will come out of this.”

Whatever happens, Kyle Mullen’s friends and family members will keep his memory alive. Their determination was evident on a snowy Sunday at the Manalapan High School football field.

“Whenever I’m sad about things, and it’s definitely a tough time for our family, but whenever I’m down, I look at a picture of him and I know what he would tell me: work hard. , keep your head up and carry on,” Brett Wehringer said. “That’s what he would do – and that’s what he would want.”

Jerry Carino is a community columnist for Asbury Park Press, focusing on Jersey Shore’s interesting people, inspiring stories and pressing issues. Contact him at [email protected]

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