After only one semester of college at Southeastern Louisiana University, Kyle Haydel surprised his family by joining the military. When he was shipped off to Afghanistan, Kyle’s family heard little from him during the next few months.
That turned out to be a good thing for the family, who would have been horrified at the dire situations Kyle found himself in.
It was only much later that the Haydels discovered that Kyle was involved in two fire fights only weeks into his first trip into an Afghan war zone. However, it was his heroic efforts in those firefights that led to Kyle receiving the Navy Commendation Medal with valor, which is the fifth highest award in the Marine Corps.
On Feb. 13, 2011, Kyle was involved in a major firefight while his patrol unit was clearing a building that had been occupied by the Taliban. In a flash, an IED went off and one of Kyle’s fellow Marines lost two limbs in the explosion. Two other Marines were also badly wounded.
Kyle sprung into action, successfully sweeping the area surrounding the explosion to determine there were no further explosives present. He then administered first aid to the wounded Marines. When Kyle brought the wounded Marines outside, enemy combatants opened fire on the patrol in an ambush.
Kyle shielded the wounded Marines with his body, located the source of the gunfire and unloaded 74 rounds into the enemy’s hideout resulting in two of them being killed and a third injured in the fire fight. He then took the wounded Marines to the evacuation point.
Eight days later another similar situation occurred when Kyle’s patrol was taking over a compound. An IED went off and one of his fellow Marines was severely wounded, becoming a quadruple amputee. Kyle again cleared the area by sweeping it and was the first to administer first aid to the gravely wounded Marines. He also directed another Marine to help him stabilize the wounded man before helping carry him to a medical escort point while enemy combatants fired at them from a distance.
Within a very short time, Kyle was promoted from private first class to lance corporal to corporal.
"He went from a private first class to a corporal in two or three months. There are people in the military that have been there for ten years that haven’t done that," Kyle’s father, Lester, said.
Family shocked at Kyle’s
decision to enter military
The Haydels were not a military family and were surprised when Kyle first expressed a desire to serve his country.
"He came to me in December and said, ‘Dad, I want to join the service. Seriously, I don’t want to open up another book. I am tired of it,’" Lester said.
Kyle, a Destrehan native, had been a football player at Brother Martin and attended St. Charles Borromeo before that.
"He was an A and B student, but he would get Cs every once in a while," Lester said. "Basically he finished high school and we always joke that he was in high school for the social part of it."
Kyle’s mother, Paula, reacted negatively to Kyle’s military plans.
"His mom went crazy," Lester said.
Despite his family’s hesitance to go along with his plan, Lester had Kyle meet with a local Marine Corps colonel he knew through family members.
"He told me ‘look, I am not going to try and make him decide one way or the other. I am just going to give him the information and the facts,’" Lester said.
After that one day in December, Kyle’s mind was made up. Not only was he going to go into the Marine Corps, he was determined to become an infantryman and engage in ground activities in Afghanistan.
Shortly before going to boot camp, he married Christina Marchese Haydel, a fellow Destrehan native who he had met through friends while at Southeastern.
Christina said she did not have any inclination that she would be a military wife.
"This just kind of popped up. I met Kyle and I knew he wanted to join the military and I didn’t know if I could do that. But I got through boot camp so I figured I could make it through anything," Christina said.
Even during boot camp, Kyle’s communications were limited.
"The original phone call when he first got there was prerecorded: ‘This is Private First Class Haydel. I have arrived’ and that was it," Paula said. "It was not what I expected."
It was during boot camp that the Haydels first got a glimpse of Kyle’s determination to succeed in the Marine Corps.
During a march to the gun range for marksmanship qualifying, Kyle fell in a ditch and split his head open.
"It split it right open and they took him to the doctor and the doctor said, ‘OK, I can stitch it right up. If I stitch it up and I give you this medicine to deaden it you’ll be put back in the next class and you’ll be two or three weeks further down the line,’" Lester said.
Not wanting to be delayed, Kyle refused the anesthesia and had the doctor staple his head. He continued on his march to the shooting range.
"He ended up shooting expert that day." Lester said.
Kyle assigned to one of most
dangerous jobs in military
After being one of 12 that finished boot camp out of the original 40 that began, Kyle went on to military combat training.
"He wanted to be in the infantry but at the time they had no MOSs available in the infantry. So he said he wanted to be as close to the infantry as he could," Lester said.
Instead of being placed with the infantry, he was assigned as a combat engineer whose job it is to go ahead of the infantry and detect land mines and improvised explosive devices. It is one of the most dangerous jobs in the military.
Arriving in Afghanistan in January 2011, Kyle took part in a dangerous mission to push out the Taliban in the rural Hellmand Province.
"He went directly to the southern region. That’s right where all the poppy fields are and where most of the drug trade is. It’s also where the Taliban get their money," Lester said. "They were trying to destroy their strongholds, their compounds where they would keep stuff and just wanted to have more of a military presence there."
During his first deployment, Kyle served on 180 combat patrols in 180 days from February to August 2011.
"Kyle lived out of a tent for probably more than half of the term," Lester said.
During much of that time, the Haydels did not know Kyle’s whereabouts.
"I went for months without hearing from him," Christina said.
Not knowing Kyle’s whereabouts, or the conditions of his life, was stressful for his family, especially after information came out that his best friend had been killed in action.
Paula said she could do little more than turn to religion.
"You pray. You pray a lot. You do novenas. That’s what I do," she said.
Lester took a different tact.
"I take it as they have been trained to do a job and they train very well," he said. "So I kind of look at it from that standpoint,."
Christina said she trusted in her husband’s ability to successfully navigate the dangers of the war.
"I just know that Kyle is really good at his job so I just have faith that he would do anything it would take for him to come home," Christina said.
Bomb blast blew
Kyle into wall
Then, minor details started to come out about the activities Kyle had been participating in. Kyle had been part of a combat patrol that was crossing an intersection in one of the towns.
"An Afghan policeman was walking in front of him directing traffic so they could cross the road and when he stepped out in the road he stepped on an IED," Christina said. "Kyle was probably 10 meters behind him so that guy blew up and Kyle got blown back and hit his head on a wall."
Taken to the hospital for a possible concussion, Kyle refused to admit that he had lost consciousness.
"He didn’t want to let anybody down and he didn’t know if he blacked out or said that he had blacked out that he would be eligible for a Purple Heart," Christina said. "He didn’t want to have a Purple Heart sitting next to somebody else with a Purple Heart who had lost both of their legs."
The next day Kyle was released back to his unit and was back on patrol.
Along with his heroic actions during his first deployment, Kyle also located and swept over 90,000 square meters for explosives, safely locating 22 devices that were defused. In addition, he secured areas for his combat patrol by putting up concertina wire and helped destroy three bridges used by the enemy.
After his first deployment, Kyle returned to Camp Lejeune in North Carolina where he stayed with Christina for over a year.
During that time, Christina became pregnant and gave birth to the couple’s daughter, and Lester and Paula’s first grandchild, Carleigh.
Shortly after arriving for his second deployment, Kyle received the Navy Commendation Medal with valor for actions in his first deployment that saved the lives of his fellow Marines.
has been easier on family
"They are doing more building this time, and since he is an engineer, he pretty much stays in one place," Lester said.
Christina and Carleigh are often able to see him through the online video service, Skype, and she said she has embraced her status as a military wife.
"Being a military wife is interesting. I meet other wives who have their husband who have the same job. So it’s close knit," Christina said. "All of his best friends, I am close friends with their wives and we all have kids that are the same age now. We were all pregnant together so it was a good experience."
Lester said it has been astounding to see what his son has gone through and how he has handled it so far.
"I am just amazed at what he went through at 18 years old and what he handled," Lester said. "It’s just unbelievable to me.
"All we hear about are the ones that come back when the news media hits it, but there’s 70,000 to 80,000 of them living over there out of tents who are just trying to protect their areas and are continually under pressure or concerned for their own lives."
The Haydels are eagerly awaiting Kyle’s scheduled return from his second deployment later this year. His time in the military is over in 2014.