I just submitted this to the NY Times. -Brandon
It’s a strange place I find myself these days, in my late thirties, and faced with the reality of friends, SEAL brothers, lost and gone from my life. The most recent of which is my friend Chris Kyle, and Glen Doherty six months earlier. I find myself often re-reading saved emails from the guys, it gives me comfort and the occasional much needed laugh or cry, and I’m not afraid to admit the latter. Real men cry, and there’s no shame in it.
I’ve spent a decade in the SEAL Teams and made some of my closest friendships there. It can be argued that my generation of Navy SEALs has suffered the greatest losses since the Vietnam War. This has affected me, and I struggle to explain it to people. Put yourself in my shoes for a second. I’d ask you to think about six close friends and imagine them all dead and gone in the span of a few years. It’s a strange exercise to say the least but will give you some insight into what it’s like. We all know that close friendships take years to establish. These guys are irreplaceable, and I have a huge hole in my life that will not be filled anytime soon.
My only comfort is that each of them lived life on their own terms. These men, like most in the Spec Ops community, disregarded the naysayers, saw failure as a learning gift, and made a habit out of setting and achieving goals in their lives. And these are lessons we can all learn from, and pass on to our own children.
I first met Chris when he was a “new guy” on probation at SEAL Team Three, he was one of the guys you instantly knew would go on to do good things in the Teams. A few years later when I was an instructor and course manager for the SEAL sniper program Chris and I got to know each other a little better. I later became his friend when we filmed a series on SOFREP.com, called Inside The Team Room. He agreed to do the show with me for free because he believed in what we were doing, which was to highlight life in the teams, the sacrifice of the American Warfighter, and their families. It was during this time I came to appreciate Chris as a true professional and where he crossed the threshold of acquaintance to friendship.
We would often text each other to jokingly give one another a hard time about some media appearance. I probably gave him too much of a hard time for his recent appearance on NBC’s Stars Earn Stripes. He called me one night upset that he was getting a lot of heat from our community over the show, he went on to explain that he was in it to raise awareness for veteran causes, and not make money. I believed him, and respected him more for it.
I think Chris and I both shared the struggle of military to civilian transition. We both left the Teams on top of our game, both Chief Petty Officers with every career opportunity open to us. However, we chose family first, and left promising careers and had lot of people in the Teams scratching their heads at our decision. We spoke of this often in our short communications.
So many in the public have been quick to misjudge my friend. Chris took no pleasure in taking lives as a trained sniper, and he doesn’t deserve the disrespectful press or the vein opining of political figures like Ron Paul. He did what his country asked of him, and did it well. His family also sacrificed greatly, and deserved a moment of dignity in his death. Most acknowledged this but a few also exposed their true nature.
After life in the SEALs Chris went on to donate the millions in proceeds from his book, American Sniper, to his fallen teammate Marc Lee’s mom, Debbie’s charity, Americas Mighty Warriors.
While he was successful elsewhere Chris could have lived his life in privacy, and comfort, yet he recognized that veterans who needed help the most were slipping through the bureaucracy of the Dept. of Veterans Affairs. He chose to still serve his country, and make a difference. He was leading from the front right until the end. Helping one veteran at a time if that’s what it took. Chris was exemplary in all things he did, and leading by example is a lesson many in government service could learn from him.
It was clear to me that Chris rationalized his job as a sniper in his own way, and that religion was important to him. While I’m not religious, I do know that we all rationalize the horribleness of War in our own way. The same can be said about the crew of the Enola Gay as they, under orders from our government, dropped the first Atomic bomb that would kill hundreds of thousands, many civilians, and finally end World War II. They had a mission to do, a job given to them by America. You see, regardless of your political beliefs, we are all Americans at the end of the day. And as citizens we all share some responsibility for what this country does to defend and protect its borders.
Until there is no more evil in this world we will need to call on men and women of Chris Kyle’s caliber to stand up and fight the school yard bullies of the World. To think differently is to be naïve.
I’ve avoided six teammates funerals in my life. I stopped avoiding them when my friend Glen died only months ago. I dropped everything to fly to Texas and pay my respect to Chris Kyle, his family, and the great state of Texas.
I flew into Dallas early Monday morning, and rushed to catch a taxi to Cowboy stadium, arriving just in time for the memorial to start. I was amazed to see the thousands of people who showed up to pay homage to an American Hero. Chris inspired so many during such a short time.
It was against the rules to take pictures at the event but I couldn’t resist, and figured Chris would understand as I snuck one personal photo to later share with my own two boys
There were so many great words said during the memorial but none as powerful or brave as the ones spoken by Chris’s wife Taya. Her words were of sacrifice and commitment; as a friend, husband and father to their children. I would encourage anyone to find and listen to her speech on the Internet. The memorial would end with the country singer Randy Travis playing two heartfelt songs for the crowd. There wasn’t a dry eye in the place.
After the memorial I met up with my brother SEAL “Drago.” Drago is another success story in itself. He is a Polish immigrant who spent two years in the Gulag for speaking out for human rights, and later came to America. He would join the Navy and go through SEAL training in his thirties. He was also on a special mission that day, our Polish Spec Ops brothers, the GROM, who served with Kyle in Iraq had asked Drago to hand deliver a wreath from the GROM unit. Mission accomplished. We embraced like brothers outside of the stadium, each knowing the gravity of the loss, only the way those who have served and lost close friends know.
The next day Drago and I would share the three-hour drive to Austin where the private funeral service would take place at the Texas state cemetery. We were running a bit late and got pulled over for doing 100 mph in what must have been the tiniest rental car on the lot. You should have seen the two of us; we looked ridiculous in that little car. The Texas state trooper let us go once he found out where we were headed, in fact he practically stopped traffic in order to let us merge back onto the expressway.
Arriving in Austin it didn’t take long to find our way, we only had to follow the people lining the streets with American flags. Drago and I parked with the help of local police and made our way to the service that had just begun. It was an unusually gorgeous and warm Texas winter day, and we both fell in to formation with the active and retired SEALs in attendance. I don’t know how many of the guys were at the service, however it took the better part of an hour for all of us to pound our SEAL Tridents (gold SEAL pin) firmly into Chris’s casket. It’s a new tradition that I’d rather not have had to learn.
Afterwards his SEAL brothers gathered around Chris, each took a knee, and took hold of one another while they piped Amazing Grace. Combat hardened warriors wept silently and stoically in front of the other attendees. I myself was overcome with both grief and joy as I wept in the presence and comfort of the brotherhood. The song ended and a designated SEAL called out a firm and loud, “CHRIS……KYLE!” in unison we thundered back with a, “HOOYAH CHRIS KYLE!”, that could be heard for miles away. I know this to be true because residents of Coronado, California have often complained about the powerful running cadence that often booms out of the tiny SEAL training compound miles down the road from their gated luxury homes.
The way Texas honored Chris and his family made me proud to be an American again. I believe that most heroes have to undergo great adversity and darkness to eventually find peace, and purpose in life that they can share with others. Chris had clearly found that being with his family, and helping others was his new mission in life.
Chris is a true modern day Hero, and I’m proud to call him my friend and teammate.