Nicholas and I have never met in person but we’ve had a few lengthy phone calls about Chris. I didn’t get to know Chris Kyle as a person or consider him a friend until after we were both out of the Teams.
What I like about his New Yorker piece is that is really digs into the background, especially where Eddie Routh is concerned. Eddie’s story is important because it showcases some important areas that need to be improved with the Dept. of Veterans Affairs mental health program. In many ways, the VA has some ownership in Chris’s death by discharging a loose cannon. You’ll have to read the full article to understand and make your own opinions.
Most articles I’ve read are only a few feet deep where CK is concerned; this one is several fathoms.
If you haven’t read it yet, I highly encourage the read in full.
Photo: Brandon and Chris with fellow SEAL TEAM 3 Teammates after filming SOFREP TV’s “Inside The TEAM Room.” Author’s personal collection.
IN THE CROSSHAIRS
By: Nicholas Schmidle
On the morning of August 2, 2006, three Navy SEALs walked onto the roof of a four-story apartment building in Ramadi, in central Iraq. One of them, a petty officer and a sniper named Chris Kyle, got into position with his rifle. Peering through his gun’s scope, Kyle scanned the streets below; as other American soldiers searched and cordoned off homes, he waited for insurgents to appear in his sight line.
It was an especially bloody phase of the war, and Kyle, who was thirty-two at the time, had distinguished himself amid the violence. That summer, he recorded his hundredth career kill—ninety-one of them in Ramadi. He was on his way to becoming one of the deadliest snipers in American history, with a hundred and sixty confirmed kills. In a written evaluation, his commanding officer reported that Kyle had “single-handedly thwarted a large-scale attack on a U.S. Marine Combat Outpost,” adding that his “performance under fire cannot be overstated.” Two previous evaluations had recommended Kyle for seal Team Six, the unit that later killed Osama bin Laden, and Kyle had received two Silver Stars for his achievements in combat.
In “American Sniper,” a memoir that was published in 2012, and went on to sell more than a million copies, Kyle recounted some of his most dramatic tales of marksmanship. There was the time in Ramadi that he shot two insurgents who were riding tandem on a moped with a single bullet. “When you’re in a profession where your job is to kill people, you start getting creative,” Kyle wrote. On another occasion, he killed an enemy fighter from more than a mile away. A former officer in Kyle’s platoon said that Kyle was willing to spend hours setting up the perfect shot, and joked, “He was extremely patient while being a sniper. He was not that patient otherwise.”
To other servicemen, Kyle, an affable, brawny Texan with reddish-blond hair, could seem like Paul Bunyan in fatigues. An ex-Ranger, whose unit was housed in Ramadi on the same base as Kyle’s seal platoon, recently told me about the day that two Iraqi spies—both working for the Americans—reported being trailed by members of Al Qaeda in Iraq. The spies feared that they would be kidnapped. Kyle climbed a ladder that had been affixed to a palm tree and hid among the fronds. When the Al Qaeda members appeared, he killed them both.
Kyle seemed to consider himself a cross between a lawman and an executioner. His platoon had spray-painted the image of the Punisher—a Marvel Comics character who wages “a one-man war upon crime”—on their flak jackets and helmets. Kyle made a point of ignoring the military dress code, cutting the sleeves off shirts and wearing baseball caps instead of a helmet. (“Ninety per cent of being cool is looking cool,” he wrote.) Like many soldiers, Kyle was deeply religious and saw the Iraq War through that prism. He tattooed one of his arms with a red crusader’s cross, wanting “everyone to know I was a Christian.” When he learned that insurgents had placed a bounty on his head and had named him al-Shaitan Ramadi—the Devil of Ramadi—he felt “proud.” He “hated the damn savages” he was fighting. In his book, he recounts telling an Army colonel, “I don’t shoot people with Korans. I’d like to, but I don’t.”
Kyle and his two teammates weren’t on the roof long before they came under enemy fire. A single round hit the M-60 machine gun of Kyle’s partner, a twenty-five-year-old named Ryan Job. Metal fragments tore into his face. Job, who was critically wounded, was evacuated in a tracked personnel carrier. (He lost vision in both eyes but survived the injury. Three years later, he died from complications that followed facial-reconstruction surgery.) Kyle, deeply shaken, repaired to a combat outpost, about five hundred metres away. But he did not stay at the outpost long; within hours, he and other members of the platoon had rearmed, piled into two Bradley armored vehicles, and returned to the same neighborhood. “As soon as the ramp dropped on our Bradley, bullets started flying,” he later recalled. He and a dozen others ran inside a house and gathered at the base of a stairwell. The point man, a twenty-eight-year-old named Marc Lee, began climbing the stairs. Lee turned around to say something when a bullet cracked through a nearby window, entering through his open mouth and exiting the back of his head. He was killed.
Lee’s death and Job’s injuries “took a toll” on Kyle, his wife, Taya, told me. He’d relive that morning, imagining what he could have done differently. His blood pressure spiked, and he could sleep only sporadically. Sleep deprivation is a key component of post-traumatic stress disorder, or P.T.S.D., according to Jonathan Shay, a clinical psychiatrist who has worked at the Veterans Affairs facility in Boston and is the author of “Odysseus in America: Combat Trauma and the Trials of Homecoming” (2002). He told me that sleep is “fuel for the frontal lobes of the brain,” which handle “ethical and emotional self-restraint” and “the ability to say, ‘This is now and that was then.’ ” He added, “In a sleep-deprived brain, there is only an eternal present.”
A few weeks after Job and Lee were shot, Kyle learned that his infant daughter was ill, possibly with leukemia. (He and Taya also had a son, then eighteen months old.) Feeling that he had fallen into a “dark hole,” Kyle flew back home, to San Diego, California.
Soon after Kyle landed, another tragedy involving three seals occurred on a rooftop in Ramadi. This time, an enemy grenade bounced off the chest of Michael Monsoor, a petty officer. He dived onto the grenade moments before it exploded. The blast killed him, but his act saved the others. (Monsoor received the Medal of Honor posthumously.) In his memoir, Kyle affectionately recalled taking part in Monsoor’s “hazing,” writing, “I remember us holding him down so his head could be shaved.” The deaths of Monsoor and others “definitely haunted him,” Taya said.
For all the moral complexity of combat, coming home is often a more distressing and disorienting experience. The transition from battle zones and M.R.E.s to parking lots and fast food can unsettle even the most well-adjusted veterans. In a 2008 study, the rand Corporation estimated that P.T.S.D. affected fourteen per cent of those who served in Iraq and Afghanistan. Symptoms of the disorder range from minor insomnia to debilitating flashbacks, and studies of veterans suggest that the likelihood of developing P.T.S.D. increases with each combat deployment.
When Kyle came home on leave, he shut himself in the house for days; Taya has said that he was “numb to everything.” When he did venture out, his mind was still in Iraq. He swerved to avoid scraps of trash in the road—in Ramadi or Fallujah, such items were used to hide bombs. Once, after Taya accidentally tripped the home alarm, Kyle took cover under a desk. Other times, he’d wake up punching. While sleeping one night, Kyle grabbed hold of Taya’s arm, with both hands. Worried that he would snap her arm in half, she repeated his name until he came to his senses and relaxed his grip. (Taya told me that she was never afraid of Kyle, and that he had not hurt her “in any way.”)
Shay, the psychiatrist, defines combat P.T.S.D. as “the persistence into civilian life, after danger, of the valid adaptations you made to stay alive when other people were trying to kill you.” In an interview last year, Kyle observed, “There’s no way you can go in, kill people, see people blown up and maimed and everything, and not come out with some stress”; however, he added, acknowledging P.T.S.D. was “hugely frowned on” by most seals. Another psychiatrist, who works at a military hospital, said of special operators, “Their culture is still that you don’t show any signs of weakness. You have to believe you’re invincible and better than anyone else. Narcissism is reinforced in that culture. They’re very bright and they’re in top physical shape. All they do is train.” He added, “They’re trained to sight someone and shoot them in the head and see the bullet shatter the whole head. They’re trained not to flinch.”
Special-operations forces undergo particularly thorough training. Among other things, they take the most intense version of a course that mimics the experience of being a prisoner of war: Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape, or sere. Within the military, a widespread sentiment exists that such rigor makes special operators unusually resilient to P.T.S.D. Shay subscribes to this view, in part. But, he observed, “Snipers have the curse that they see the work their round does.” The telescopic lens atop a sniper’s rifle lends a dreadful intimacy to the act of killing. Whereas an infantryman might see his enemy fall after pulling the trigger, a sniper often watches, with tremendous magnification and clarity, as his bullet penetrates an enemy’s skull. Shay said, “When you can see what you are killing, and know who you are killing, the emotional weight of that experience is likely to be way larger than when it is killing either from an airplane at thirty thousand feet or if you have only a general sense of where the enemy is.”
Kyle’s daughter turned out to have an infection, not leukemia, and was soon healthy again. Within a year and a half, Kyle had redeployed to Iraq. When he returned home on leave, he acted increasingly distant. At one point, Taya caught him texting with an old girlfriend. “Chris didn’t think we were going to make it,” she told me. She and Kyle had met in March, 2001, and had married a year later; Kyle shipped off to Iraq shortly after that. He participated in almost every pivotal moment of the war: the 2003 invasion; the second major battle in Fallujah, in the fall of 2004; the 2008 fight in Sadr City. No sooner had he flown home than he was preparing to do it all over again. But he was good at his job, and he cherished the camaraderie of the seals. “I went back to back to back to back to back,” he once said.
One night in 2009, when Kyle and his family were living in San Diego, he and Taya sat down at the kitchen table. Kyle was preparing to reënlist. Though Taya knew he loved being a seal, she told him that if he stayed in the Navy she was moving to Oregon, to be close to her parents, and that things were “not going to be the same.” Kyle did not want to lose Taya or the kids, and so that night he agreed to quit.
Read the rest at the New Yorker here.