In an almost cliché image, the rain is coming down on the stoic faces of proud Texans who’ve come out in support of a local hero named Chris Kyle. They wave their hands and flags as the funeral procession passes by, complete with hundreds of Patriot Guard motorcycle riders, and scores of family, friends and teammates of the fallen soldier.
I’m writing this piece because it’s a long trip from Midlothian to Austin, where we will bury Chris in a little while, and I’ve realized that something needs to be said that hasn’t yet.
The grey sky today is the perfect metaphor for our collective mood in the country right now. The news headlines and our own financial concerns are hitting us every day with sour news. The dark skies are seen as a passing storm by some, or the start of “The Perfect Storm” by others. No matter the forecast, it’s cloudy and raining today. We can all feel it.
Enter into this scenario even more bad news, namely the untimely death of Navy SEAL Sniper, Chris Kyle. Most people will take this information, feel a tinge of sadness, comment, “What a tragedy,” and then move on with their lives, which is understandable. Others, however, will stop and take notice. Some may even learn something about this man- and capture a glimmer of hope.
Someone wise once said that our reality is defined by what we continuously focus on. When we are constantly bombarded with bad news, low bank accounts, mishaps, and doom, our spirits yearn for balance through something good or healthy. There are many of ways to find that good, but often it’s something transitory and self-gratifying. How much better if we can find that good medicine for our spirit through another mechanism.
Heroes. We all have them.
These are the guys and gals that we want to be like. As we mature, we realize that these honorable individuals are human, and so we begin to identify the specific qualities that we admire. These are the human traits that we identify with and want to incorporate into, well, ourselves. To those rugged individualists or rebels who say BS about having heroes, I challenge you to recall your favorite stories and movies and tell me you didn’t pick up something from them. You see, we all have heroes.
Sometimes, we can find those qualities in real, living people. If you’ve had the opportunity to read Chris Kyle’s book, American Sniper, you might have discovered some of these estimable traits that resonated with you. Young men might read about the warfare and adventures Chris experienced which could ignite that warrior spirit in them. If you look closely, though, you’ll find much, much more to admire. Something to which all of us can aspire.
Chris became a living legend because he had 255 confirmed kills during his four tours in Iraq, while being shot twice and blown up four times. Even before he released his book, this caught the attention of both US warriors and the enemy combatants, and this is where we come to the crux of his whole story, compelling us to take notice. At this point in Chris’ career, he had some hard decisions to make, and we know that men are known by their decisions. The first question was whether he should leave the brotherhood of special men and become a full-time father, or stay in the Navy and build his career on his past accomplishments. For many committed and gifted warriors, this is a very tough decision, but Chris chose to get out because of battle-weariness, as well as to strengthen his family. It was a good choice for all.
The next decision was another complex one. Should he write about the battles he had endured in order to share them with the world, and if so, why? Well, he did write the book as we know now, doing something that most people couldn’t or wouldn’t consider. He dedicated and then donated all the profits from the book to the families of his two friends, Marc Lee and Ryan Job, both killed in Iraq. Marc’s death was especially hard on Chris, eventually pushing him to “adopt” Marc’s mother and donate the profits to the family. What is amazing about this decision is that Chris had no real income now because he was not eligible to retire from the Navy. He used his personal notoriety, wrote the book and then gave to the families of his slain teammates. This act of selfless love and brotherhood gives us a beautiful example of the deeper side of a true warrior.
There are always those who hate war. Many of them take that hate and transfer that hate to the warrior. These folks don’t like any talk or glorification of war; but it may be surprising to know that those who eschew killing in war the most are the warriors. It is they who have been trained for this, knowing it must be done. To those who’ve taken the path of hating the warrior, I must ask you to look closer. Chris is an amazing example of a warrior who lived the patriotism we speak of, the self-discipline of a saint, and of selfless love we can only hope for. He was still human, of course, and not at all perfect. Remember, it’s the qualities we admire that make them heroes to us.
As we reached the Texas State Cemetery, the rain finally abated and the sun shown down on us as “Taps” played, jets flew overhead, and the frogmen pounded their Tridents into the coffin. We laid our brother to rest and set ourselves to understand the meaning of the event in which we just took part. You see, Chris had been out of the Navy for 3 years, and yet 150 SEALs, active and retired, flew here to honor this legend. This is unprecedented in this small community of SEALs. Amazingly, most of the flights were donated by others and all the hotel rooms were paid for by Texas Law Enforcement. The outpouring of love, money, and respect shocked every one of us. Texas and the SOF community overwhelmed the family, friends, and teammates of Chris Kyle. We began to see a silver lining in those clouds.
In dark times, the lights we can see seem so much brighter. Although Chris was a light for all of us to model, the compassionate outpouring by Texans and others gave many of us a new hope-the hope that the light in all of us can chase away this darkness that pervades our country. There are still men of action, of integrity, of selfless love, and dedication to God, family, and country. Not only that, but there are so many more in this country willing to step up in support of these men and women, attempt to fill their shoes and be that light for the rest of the world.
Randy Kelley is former Navy SEAL Sniper, also serving in Ramadi but without quite the excitement of Chris Kyle’s adventures. He currently lives in San Diego and runs a Preparedness Program called Ready 5 (www.ready-five.com).