As originally posted on SOFREP Feb 2013: This post was written by Eric Davis, who was Chris Kyle’s Sniper Instructor…and friend.
When I heard the news about Chris, my close friend Brandon Webb of SOFREP was at my house. As we got to talking I began to feel that familiar feeling of regret and remorse, the feeling that I’m sure every Special Forces Operator carries with him after he leaves his team. Every news story, every movie, every book pulls at your soul trying to call you back in. Since I left the SEAL teams in 2008 I’ve been able to, more or less, avoid the things that would yank me back into the only skin that has ever fit me. Much like an addict taking it day by day avoiding all the “Triggers”, I just barely managed to keep my distance.
It’s now been over 4 years since my last opportunity to make a difference, serve my country and do a damn thing about anything. Helpless, mad, disappointed and afraid I began to selfishly share my powerless frustration with Brandon. He simply looked at me and said “Why don’t you write about your time with Chris and I’ll post it on SOFREP?”.
Head down, kicking the ground like a kid who just lost his lunch money to a bully, I replied, “Dude, I’ve got no business writing anything about Chris.” He simply looked at me and said, “Dude, Chris was your student. You personally trained the best sniper in the world. You have a voice and Veterans and their families need more Veteran leaders to speak up.”
Like any Special Forces Operator it’s in our nature to be the “Gray Man“, “Quiet Professional,” to keep to the shadows out of sight. Standing up and talking intimately about what we do is a “No-No” in our world, and to be honest I was more afraid of being “That Guy” if I wrote something about Chris. But then it hit me as I wrestled with the notion.
If it weren’t for the stories, books and movies about men like Chris Kyle and Marcus Luttrell I would have never wanted to be a Navy SEAL. In fact, it was the movie “Navy SEALs” from the 1990’s where I learned about the elite force. So reluctantly I began to write about Chris and I slowly began to actually feel like we were doing something. Probably not much of anything, but it was the first time I felt like I was part of the SOF community in a long time and I desperately missed my brothers. I sent Brandon what I wrote up and thanked him for the opportunity to at least try and contribute to the mission. Again it all felt very selfish, but damn it, I needed to do something, anything to serve Chris and his memory.
As these things go, I ended up in San Diego at 3:00am the next morning to speak to a news station about Chris and the situation. In preparation for some of this commentary several journalists were asking different questions about Chris, the situation, what the family might be feeling, how Chris was as a student, what do I think about PTSD and other details. Now properly nervous about going on live TV, I thought it best to take some time and get some of my thoughts together so that I had a chance in hell to not fumble my words and let Chris and the community down.
Finding No Answers
Having given it all some thought, I became fully convinced there was an actual real opportunity to serve Chris and his legacy. I actually began to tilt in wanting to wake up the American public and get something done for Veterans and their families, thinking that Chris might have wanted something like that to happen.
Long story short, I got my notes together, read them over and over again. Wrote them on a whiteboard, placed it underneath the camera and settled in. As fate would have it the studio had technical difficulties and the interview had to be cut short. We answered two quick questions and then we were done. It was just over.
The news organization was great about it and it was truly an unfortunate technical breakdown and everyone felt bad about not getting anything of substance out there. As I walked out of the studio doors with my notes crumpled in my sweaty palms I began to feel a little anger. When Brandon posted the initial write-up on SOFREP I was amazed at how the SOFREP community responded. They were there – brothers and sister pulling up along side of the memory of Chris. They cared, and the questions that this tragedy has produced needed answers and action. Tearful and authentic comments continue to pour in, searching for peace, resolution and a way to help.
Feeling dejected, I returned to the hotel room, confirming my ineptness to at least attempt to begin to serve in any capacity. Mentally passing the “Torch” to those more relevant, I began to pack up my stuff to return home.
Before leaving I tuned the TV in to perhaps catch the story, hoping to hear that something of use passed through my lips, though I don’t recollect getting anything coherent out. I was unable to find the interview. I seldom watch TV or the news; but today I’m hooked, desperate to hear more about Chris, Veterans and their families. Not expecting any real answers yet; but, putting in some serious effort to find them. Veterans and their families. Chris’s selfless personal mission just kept ringing in my ears like when you crack off a round at the range without ear protection on.
I locked onto the TV waiting for action.
One story about the lights at the Super Bowl goes by.
Another story about the lights at Super Bowl goes by.
Apparently when the lights go out at the Super Bowl the danger of someone tripping and falling increases. Has the War ended?
After several reports about the tragic “Lighting episode” and ensuing chaos (I think someone thought it might have been Beyonce’s fault) I put my stuff down and decided to finish what was started and at least do my best to do something more than nothing. So all I could come up with was to attempt to answer the questions caring people have asked. Not wanting another tragedy like the lights going off during a football game to distract us again, I sat back down to write this as quickly as I could.
Digging For Answers
Q: What was Chris Kyle like as a Sniper student?
It was a few years ago now, but I will always remember the humble confidence about him. Sniper school is very difficult and many, many SEALs fail to pass it. It’s so technical and long that it’s very tough to ever predict who will make it and who will not. That wasn’t the case with Chris. From the moment he showed up you knew he was going to make it.
As I’m now seeing everything through my new found love of Texans, in hindsight, I think Chris only attended Sniper school just in case of the unlikely event that simply being a Texan didn’t cover everything he needed to know to be an effective sniper. Not arrogant, but just “Texan,” if I can use that as my new favorite positive adjective.
We may have taught him the technical skills of being a Sniper, but whatever we may have taught him in the school house has long since been forgotten by me and replaced with what he has taught us all about being a real Sniper.
Q. Do you think Chris himself suffered from PTSD?
I wasn’t close enough to Chris to comment on this, but I clearly remember how powerful his purpose was.
Chris was just back from a deployment and he came back to Sniper Cell to debrief us and contribute to how the course could modify to be more effective.
I remember listening to him talk about all of the difficult shots he took. I distinctly remember how impressed I was that he was able to compartmentalize the psychology of the entire experience.
When I asked him, “How are you doing with all this?” he quickly replied “Oh I’m fine with it.” That was when I first heard him speak about why he did what he did. Chris was clear that he was there saving lives. Chris was there fulfilling on his duty and following orders to save Americans and their Allies. I’ve seen a few interviews of him where people tried to question into why he liked or was good at killing people. Chris replied plainly that he wasn’t there to “kill” anyone. He was there to save people, and that is what he did.
He was settled that the psychological burden of this work was his burden alone and he had accepted it, with no complaint or hint of discomfort, despite the media’s attempt to turn it into something dark. God bless the men who will do the things that need to be done regardless of popular opinion.
Chris truly knew why he was doing what he was doing and I found that an amazing testament to his strength of character.
Q. What are we supposed to learn from this?
I can’t imagine what was working inside of the person who killed Chris that day; but, I can guess that what probably wasn’t working was his life after military service.
Now to be very clear, I’m not saying that someone’s life not going well could ever excuse such a thing, but when someone asked me the question “What are we supposed to learn from this?” something Chris said in one of his interviews popped in my head.
Chris commented on the challenges of transitioning out of military life. He related how in the military everything you do is for others – the greater good, but as a civilian, everything you do is for you. Consider how difficult it is for our service men and women to navigate the waters between heroism and capitalism on their own. Nobody is mentoring or coaching them on how to survive in a world marketplace and compete for normal jobs. Chris was working to fill that void.
Now again, I can’t know what we are supposed to learn from this. I mean, right now I think we are all just grasping for something that makes sense. What we do know is that Chris was committed to helping Veterans and their families live a good life.
A lot of people are going to try and use this incident to launch their personal agendas. No doubt we will soon be seeing, if not already, politicians using this in the debate around gun control. It’s a free country and I hold no ill will towards those who would leverage this moment for their cause, in fact, I would fight for that right, but for me, and I’m sure most other Veterans, we will be here to support Chris’s vision and any legacy his family chooses to pursue. This tragedy has everyone talking about PTSD as a possible cause. Regardless of the “cause” of this tragedy, like it might just turn out that the killer was just sick and twisted, lets keep listening to Chris and continue to support his work.
Q. What can we do?
Lets try and do what Chris was doing. Lets keep our focus on all of the honorable men and women departing the service. We talk a lot about “supporting our troops,” but what are we really doing? Are we teaching them how to transition? Are we mentoring our heroes? Are we making a point to have jobs reserved for them for when they come back home? Are we locking arms with them until they make it? It’s a new world out there and technology is shifting the marketplace so fast that one could leave the work force, volunteer to serve in the military for 5 years, and come back to an entirely new game of which they can not prepare for.
We can’t depend on the Government to mentor and lead our troops back into this highly competitive marketplace. We need business leaders to enter the fight with us. This country has way too much wealth, talent and resources, that remain available because of the sacrifices of brave men and women everywhere. Teachers, Soldiers, Fire Fighters, Law Enforcement and all other forms of “servant leaders” need to be the best cared for people in our country. They are the heart and soul of this nation. If we can’t make sure that life works out for those who choose others before themselves, we will someday no longer have them.
If you’re successful and have something to offer, it’s time to step up!
Q. How do you think his family is handling this?
We know from listening to Chris that he would want to know that his family is being watched over while he’s gone. We need to have Chris’s back and make sure his family is cared for – forever.
I just listened to a clip where someone asked Chris “What if being a killer turns out to be the thing your best at in life?” Chris – without hesitation – made it very clear that could never be true because he is already a better Father and Husband than he was a Sniper.
Chris didn’t do what he did because he hated anything in front of him. He did what he did because so loved what was behind him.
I hope to be so very respectful here of those who are close to Chris this way. With tears in my eyes and my hat in my hands, it is my deepest wish to respect the bond that those who were close to Chris must have.
My wife’s father was a humanitarian who devoted his life to helping others. He too lost his life at the hands of the very person he was trying to help.
This is a very different kind of loss than when we lose someone to war or disease.
This is a much deeper loss for the family and friends left behind. The grief I witnessed within my own family was palpable and severe. What I learned was that there is nothing that can be said or done; but just to recognize that the pain is unbearable and don’t forget about it as there is never a day that goes by that they can forget.
To Chris’s Wife and Children. I never knew you and I can’t know what you are going through; but I want to acknowledge that while America has lost we know that it is nothing compared to the loss you have sustained. Your nation owes you a debt of which there is no payment large enough.
Your husband & father is an American Hero and we will all miss him but none of us can miss him like you will
And none of us can hurt as much as you must be hurting now
And for that I can only say how sorry we all are and we will never forget you.
Kyle family – America loves you.