Army Staff Sgt. Kyle R. Warren, posing with children in Afghanistan, was…
Kyle R. Warren was hard to miss, whether tearing down a rugby field or running toward a firefight through muddy poppy fields in Afghanistan.
Though an intimidating bear of a man at nearly 6 feet 3 and 240 pounds, Warren was a fun-loving, warmhearted guy who made friends effortlessly with his disarming, sometimes goofball charm, friends and family said.
After graduating from Marina High School in Huntington Beach — going to college off and on, and playing lots of rugby — Warren appeared to find his groove in life when he enlisted in the Army.
He joined the elite Special Forces as a medic, with plans to become a firefighter-paramedic or physician's assistant when he left the service, and married his longtime New Hampshire sweetheart just a year ago.
"He really seemed to be on his way," said his father, Del Warren of Long Beach. "He had just turned into a fine young man."
On July 29, the 28-year-old staff sergeant was one of two Special Forces soldiers killed by a roadside bomb outside Tsagay in southern Afghanistan's Helmand province, on the Pakistani border. Also killed was Capt. Jason E. Holbrook, 28, of Burnet, Texas.
Warren and other members of his Special Forces unit had just finished meeting with town elders when they were attacked by small-arms fire, according to his father, who received a redacted Army report on the circumstances surrounding his son's death. Warren and Holbrook were on an all-terrain-vehicle during the firefight when they were hit by the explosive, his father said.
Officials at the U.S. Army Special Forces Command said Warren and Holbrook were killed during a combat reconnaissance patrol. Warren, who grew up in Torrance and Huntington Beach, was his team's medical sergeant. Both men were assigned to the 1st Battalion, 3rd Special Forces Group (Airborne) at Ft. Bragg, N.C.
Warren had just arrived for his second deployment in the area, having earlier served in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
"He was always top notch, and he took his job as a medic very seriously," said friend Jay Daniel of Jeffersonton, Va., a Special Forces veteran who trained with Warren and served with him during his first deployment. "Kyle helped save lives, and he was always the first to volunteer if we had a mission."
Daniel said that, along with aiding other soldiers, Warren and other medics in Afghanistan provided healthcare for the elderly and sick during weekly town clinics. Warren also rushed to save the lives of two boys in Afghanistan nearly killed by an improvised explosive device, which had seriously wounded their arms and legs.
"There are two boys walking around southern Afghanistan today because of Kyle," said Daniel, who named his newborn son after his friend.
Warren was born at Little Company of Mary Hospital in Torrance, and raised by his mother, Lynn Warren, and father, Del. The Warren family later moved to Huntington Beach, where the couple's only child played linebacker for the Marina High football team.
Warren's former coach, Mark Rehling, said he remembers him more for the times he dropped by the classroom than for his play on the football field. Even after Warren graduated, he would occasionally pop in to say hello.
"He was very thoughtful. He was trying to find a way to really make things better; you could tell that was really engrained in his personality," Rehling said. "He wanted to contribute in some way. When he joined the Army, it gave him a real vision forward.''
After graduation, Warren attended Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff, where he got his first real introduction to club rugby — a passion that followed him to Bedford, N.H., a few years later when he moved in with his mother (his parents had divorced years before).
Friend and fellow rugby player Justin Veverka said Warren was one of the "hardest hitters I've ever seen."
"He was definitely one of the most feared guys in the New England Rugby Union,'' he said.
Warren ended up sharing an apartment with Veverka and his brother in Manchester, attending classes at a local community college now and then, working at a hotel and playing lots of rugby. Manchester also is where Warren met his future wife, Sandy, when she was a student at Southern New Hampshire University.
"Kyle was just this big goofy guy, a great person to be around," Veverka said. "He was a big storyteller. Everything was about California. California this, California that. And I never saw a man eat so much Mexican food in my life."
It was in 2004 when Warren, the Veverka brothers and another close friend — all somewhat adrift in life — decided to enlist together.
"We all just looked at ourselves, at where we were at," Veverka said. "The war just kicked off in Iraq, and we thought we'd all join up together."
Warren was buried at Green Hills Memorial Park in Rancho Palos Verdes, next to the graves of his maternal grandparents.
Warren's father, an Army veteran, said his son was a perfect fit to be a Special Forces medic — fearless, devoted and always willing to help others.
"The hard part is that the powers-that-be just took the wrong kid," he said.