I recently finished the book American Sniper: The Autobiography of the Most Lethal Sniper in U.S. Military History by Chris Kyle, Scott McEwen and Jim DeFelice. Kyle’s wife Taya wasn’t credited but also contributed significantly to the book.
When I bought the book I expected it to be an account of the weapons and tactics that led Chief Petty Office Chris Kyle of S.E.A.L. Team 3 to become the most ‘lethal’ U.S. sniper in history surpassing the legendary Marine Carlos Hathcock’s Vietnam era record by over 50%. I expected Kyle’s book to be very similar to Hathcock’s Carlos Hathcock: Marine Sniper : War Stories And Tactical Tips From The Master Sniper which is also a great read…but what I ended up with was a love story. Don’t get me wrong, Kyle’s book has lots of war stories and countless humorous anecdotes of his life as a Navy S.E.A.L., but he didn’t focus nearly as much on the mechanics of shooting as he did on the decisions, situations and loves that led him placed him in the positions that led to his lethal record.
I love a good military autobiography and the psychological makeup of snipers makes their stories particularly compelling. As I mentioned above I’ve read Hathcock’s book as well as the autobiography of Vassili Zaitsev, NOTES OF A RUSSIAN SNIPER which was made into the movie Enemy At The Gates. As much as I enjoyed those books Kyle’s was something broader and in some ways more compelling.
Kyle told the story of his life, his S.E.A.L training, peacetime duty, and his four tours of duty in Iraq (including his contributions to the Second Battle of Falluja, the Battle of Ramadi, as well as various incursions into Sadr City) interspersed with the story of and the conflicts between his three great loves.
Kyle writes eloquently about his related loves… his love of profession and his love of a challenge. Kyle seems almost to have stumbled into his life as a S.E.A.L. after hearing that S.E.A.L. training was the toughest and most challenging. Kyle doesn’t seem to have been particularly well suited to Navy life…he wasn’t interested in ships, hated the water and could care less about his Military Occupational Specialty (MOS) of Naval Intelligence. What he was suited for was the challenge of graduating his S.E.A.L. training, the challenge of being accepted as full fledged member of his S.E.A.L. Team, the additional challenge of becoming a S.E.A.L. sniper and the ultimate challenge of facing a determined enemy on the field of battle. Once Kyle left the regular Navy for the S.E.A.L. life that became not just his profession, but his very identity.
I’ve had the opportunity to work with a few active and former S.E.A.L.s through the years and Kyle epitomized their well deserved reputation for being hard working, risk taking, fun loving, abuse seeking and more than a little bit crazy! I remember the lone S.E.A.L. we had in jump school turning himself into a lightning rod for all the negative attention from our Black Hats (Airborne Instructors). He took everything they threw at him and asked for more…we loved the guy as he took all the abuse that would have been spread around to the rest of us.
In Kyle’s autobiography he describes himself as unapologeticly patriotic. His love of country seemed so profound that it sometimes left little feeling for the well-being of foreigners. That didn’t mean that foreigners couldn’t earn his respect as the Polish Special Operations troops he served in Iraq with did…but foreigners didn’t begin with the same esteem that he automatically held his for his countrymen down to the junior Marine, Sailor, Airman or Army Private. To get a sense of Kyle’s patriotism, consider this statement:
I’ve lived the literal meaning of the ‘land of the free’ and ‘home of the brave.’ It’s not corny for me. I feel it in my heart. I feel it in my chest. Even at a ball game, when someone talks during the anthem or doesn’t take off his hat, it pisses me off. I’m not one to be quiet about it, either.
Chief Petty Officer Chris Kyle
Kyle’s description of the dilemma he faced when trying to balance his love of country and love of (and demands) of his profession with his love for his growing family will ring true and familiar to any family man or woman who’s ever put on a uniform. Kyle’s wife Taya contributes to the story from her point of view which adds depth and context to the story…and frankly will help me better relate to Mrs. Jackson next time I get called up. Taya and the kids finally succeeded in doing what the insurgents, injuries, and the ‘brass’ couldn’t do… namely take Kyle out of the fight. Always one to rise to a challenge though… he found another way to serve his country by becoming and entrepreneur and training other warriors in the skills he’d learned.
Although Kyles 150+ confirmed sniper kills speak volumes about his prowess behind the trigger it’s interesting to note that he didn’t consider himself that skilled of a shooter. He had a great deal confidence in his battlefield skills and took great professional pride in being a sniper…but he didn’t consider himself an especially skilled long range shooter…just lucky and long lived.
To hear that one of our nation’s premier warriors had the same difficulties balancing his love of country and love of family as I’ve had, my father had and many I’ve served with have grappled with wasn’t amazing…but the fact that he was willing to discuss it in such detail and with such sensitivity (a sensitive S.E.A.L., whodathunkit!) made it a particularly compelling read.
While there are elements of this book that will be of use to the preparedness minded the real reason to read this book is to celebrate the sacrifice and service of Chris Kyle and those warriors like him whose stories will never be heard outside of service reunions and family living rooms.
Sadly, Chris Kyle’s story was brought to an early end by a criminal this past February. RIP American Sniper.