From 1999 to 2009, Kyle recorded 160 confirmed kills, with another 95 unconfirmed, earning him the nickname: al-Shaitan Ramadi or “the Devil of Ramadi.”
Kyle learned his trade as a Navy SEAL, arguably the most elite specials forces soldiers on the planet. If you have truly fucked up on a global scale, it is the Navy SEALS who will come knocking to administer justice.
Kyle was on SEAL Team 3, and served four combat tours of duty in Operation Iraqi Freedom, where he was shot twice and survived six IED attacks.
For his bravery, he was awarded two Silver Stars, five Bronze Stars with Valor, two Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medals, and one Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal.
This was an impressive career by any standard, even considering the human carnage, but what drew me to reading “American Sniper” was Kyle’s murder in February at the age of 38.
To survive the training and combat, along with the personal sacrifices, only to come home and be killed by another soldier was tragic, so I wanted to see what this humble Texas was all about.
“As a SEAL, you go to the Dark Side,” said Kyle. “You’re immersed in it. Continually going to war, you gravitate to the blackest parts of existence. Your psyche builds up its defenses – that’s why you laugh at gruesome things like heads being blown apart, and worse. Growing up, I wanted to be military. But I wondered, how would I feel about killing someone? Now I know. It’s no big deal.”
Kyle delivers his prose in an aggressive, shotgun style. Little is left to interpretation. It’s to the point and plainly spoken.
Occasionally, his wife, Taya, is given a few paragraphs to express her feelings, but the words tend to fall flat in written form.
It’s the SEALS who are the story here. They are the ultimate tough guys, superheroes walking amongst mere mortals. They don’t feel pain like the rest of us. Instead Navy SEALS grin and ask for another.
These guys choke each other out for fun. That their personal lives are unstable, sadly, is a preconceived expectation.
Kyle kills a lot, which sounds strange, but it’s his job and he approaches it that way. The tools of his trade just happen to be a rifle, scope and camouflage.
The man was an artist at concealing his sniper position inside buildings. What floor he chose, which side of the building, how far back he positioned himself into a room, the field of view below, all came into play.
He studied his enemy to be able to pick out the slightest behavioral patterns that could be recognized through the scope of a rifle 15-football fields away. That provided him a millisecond advantage, enough to take lethal action under the “Rules of Engagement.”
“It was my duty to shoot the enemy, and I don’t regret it,” said Kyle. “My regrets are for the people I couldn’t save: Marines, soldiers, buddies. I’m not naive, and I don’t romanticize war. The worst moments of my life have come as a SEAL. But I can stand before God with a clear conscience about doing my job.”
Outside Baghdad is where Kyle got his longest confirmed kill, 2,100 yards away, on a guy with an RPG aimed at an American convoy.
The pressure these guys operated under on a daily basis is extreme and impressive, but something I found notable that rose out of Kyle’s storytelling was the general cavalier attitude the entire military assigned to human life.
I get these guys are deployed to fight, but if Kyle is going to bemoan injuries to his friends, it seems inappropriate to treat his enemy’s deaths as if they were nothing more than video game kills.
The fraudulent nature of the Iraq War itself undercuts a chunk of the noble sentiment Kyle wishes to express. The U.S. invaded Iraq without provocation, against the recommendations of weapons inspectors, and our civilian leaders lied to the U.N. and to the American people.
Certainly hostile parties were engaging U.S. soldiers, but these so-called “insurgents” are what we would call a militia in America. Imagine the response in the United States if a hostile country invaded our shores.
Kyle chooses to mock the insurgents for their simplistic strategies and poor execution, but it should be remembered they did not ask for this fight. It’s disrespectful to talk so lightly about killing those whose country we invaded unlawfully.
If Kyle was so disturbed about seeing his friends die, perhaps he should have raised questions about the mission and demanded better transparency from the White House.
George W. Bush and Dick Cheney will be lucky if a few years further down the road, as more documents become declassified, that they aren’t brought up on war crimes charges.
“I signed up to protect this country,” said Kyle. “I do not choose the wars. It happens that I love to fight. But I do not choose which battles I go to. Y’all send me to them.”
For the longest time Kyle thought he had a golden shield around him and couldn’t get hurt. But if you keep going back into the field eventually the law of averages catches up with everyone.
It took double knee surgery, a fourth deployment, and getting shot twice to realize he wasn’t superman. He could be killed and the idea of being vulnerable was a problem.
After the gunshots his blood pressure went through the roof. The more he tried to relax the worse it got.
It was time to go home. Yet going from combat one day to suburban America the next is no easy transition.
He had some issues with excessive alcohol consumption, but then got his head back on straight and started a sniper school called Craft International. Its motto: “Despite what your mama told you, violence does solve problems.”
Kyle became a staunch voice for getting help to those who served, whether that was counseling, job training or shelter.
“There’s no reason someone who has fought for their country should be homeless or jobless,” said Kyle. “I’m not suggesting we give vets handouts – what people need are hand-ups, a little opportunity and strategic help.”
Sadly it was this work that led to Kyle’s untimely death.
On Saturday, February 2, 2013, Kyle and a companion, Chad Littlefield, took a fellow veteran to the Rough Creek Lodge Shooting Range in Glen Rose, Texas, to help ease his post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Eddie Ray Routh, 25, shot and killed them both. He remains in custody awaiting trial.
Ultimately, “American Sniper” is a cautionary tale. Even if you think you are doing the right thing it can go sideways. Watch for the big screen adaptation of Kyle’s exploits, as Steven Spielberg has signed on to direct, with Bradley Cooper starring as Chris Kyle.