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Around The Fleet

Farewell to Kyle

Forever at sea

I've never had to bury a shipmate, but today I witnessed a crew come together and bid a heartfelt farewell to Master Chief Boatswain's Mate Kyle Sutton.

The ceremony had weighed on my mind more than I wanted to show knowing the burial at sea had to merit the man, and provide a memory that would permit closure to a grief stricken crew and family. This letter is meant to provide the family and crew a closer sense of how their Father, Son, Husband, Brother, Uncle and Shipmate spent his final day.

The morning began with a 0500 wake up and as I looked at the bridge our course was west, but this morning was indeed special. Directly on the bow was a full moon and the ship was centerline in the reflection. The full moon marked the course for which Master Chief Kyle Sutton would be buried. The seas were strong and the ship's stem was peeling the 8-10 foot waves with ease.

Boatswain's Mates were preparing their cracker jacks with impressive pipe lanyards, their hallmark and the heartbeat rating of a ship putting to sea. Today, they would say good bye to their deckplate leader.

Three photo collage: left: CO's speech middle: casket with crew in background right: crew saluting

The chiefs were already awake ensuring brother Kyle was carefully placed for the burial at sea. What I later found out is that the engineers and deck department were up most of the night drying out the well deck, which included a bucket brigade and swabs to ensure the well deck was fully prepared for the ceremony.

The Marines of 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit, who grew to know Master Chief Sutton during the last deployment volunteered to perform the 21 gun salute. Each Marine performed with the exacting precision we come to admire in our United States Marine Corps. Without knowledge, but with my full approval, a former shipmate and friend reported aboard to witness the burial - a true testament to the bonds of friendship in the mess. Master Chief Fowler is welcome aboard our ship anytime!

Three photo collage: left: Boatswain's Mates saying goodbye middle: casket on well deck right: chiefs carrying flag

As time neared and everyone mustered in the well deck, we all hoped for a calm sea. As if Kyle had a say in the sea state, true to form, calm was not appropriate for a Master Chief Boatswain's Mate who was widely regarded as an "American Badass." We made last minute adjustments and held the ceremony in the well deck with the stern gate closed. We would say goodbye from the safety of the wing-walls and false beach following the formal ceremony. The time to reset the crew was fitting allowing crew members to say their personal and private farewell to their friend and shipmate. With one hand on the casket and tear filled eyes, Boatswain's Mates and chiefs bid farewell.

As the ceremony began, chiefs folded our nation's colors with heavy hearts, but with full competence leading in the front of their Sailors. My remarks were short with admitted futility of providing comfort, but intended to express a sincere appreciation to the family for raising such a man and requesting USS MAKIN ISLAND to perform Kyle's burial. As I looked into the souls of the crew, I could see in full display the impact Kyle had on their careers and lives. Chaplain Carlton's prayer and message were as usual, heartfelt and fitting for the moment.

Following the 21 gun salute, the XO gave the order to muster Deck Department and the Boatswain's Mates swelled with pride yelling "Boatswain's Mate" after their name was called. Upon hearing the silence following "Master Chief Sutton," a real gut punch awareness that Kyle was gone fell upon the crew.

Upon the silence of the third calling, Master Chief Boatswain's Mate Kyle Glen Sutton,"
the entire crew saluted and taps was played throughout the ship.

The crew reset to the safety of the wing-walls and the false beach while Kyle was placed on the stern gate. As the stern gate was lowered, the crew came to attention and saluted farewell to their friend, leader and shipmate. Blue skies and a beautiful sunrise graced the background as Kyle was laid to rest. The sun rays reflecting through the salt spray provided a very fitting testament that God was present and awaiting the arrival of heaven's newest angel. Master Chief Kyle Sutton peacefully slipped below the waves.
Waves rushing to meet Master Chief Boatswain's Mate Kyle Sutton's casket.

Every crew member present and those on watch were honored to participate. For the family, thank you for Kyle!!!

Jon P. Rodgers
Captain, United States Navy
Commanding Officer, USS Makin Island (LHD 8)

I would like to express my sincerest appreciation to the crew of MAKIN ISLAND and 11th MEU for a very memorable, fitting and touching burial."
-Kimberly Sutton, wife of Kyle Sutton

Graphic for "Long May I Live" All Hands Magazine story.