FORT WORTH (CBSDFW.COM) – When I met Chris Kyle recently at an area gun range, he arrived just the way I expected.
His face was grown over and rough and he was ready to talk about his SEAL experience –– as well as owning the title of the deadliest sniper in U.S. history.
What I wasn’t prepared for was the candor with which he spoke about his relationship with his wife, Taya, and the decision he had to make in 2009. He chose between his love of being a SEAL and the love for his wife and children.
A methodical process
When we met, Chris pulled two guns from his truck and began setting up 100 yards out on the target range.
I’m not a big gun guy, per-se. I’ve shot a number of them, and can handle myself around guns, but I’m far from an expert.
But watching someone who knows his or her craft intimately is neat. From setting up to clearing the chambers, from zeroing in the sights to loading the magazines; it’s all methodical.
Each movement was precise: This is a man who has done this thousands of times and knows precisely what each movement will do and is intended to do.
He’s a creature of habit, for sure.
We talked about many things regarding what it takes to be a great sniper. The biggest element of being good at that job, according to Kyle, is patience; waiting out the target.
He spoke of being in one spot for two weeks at a time. That’s the same spot, 24/7.
Still. Silent. Searching through his scope.
“You have to slow your heart rate, stay calm,” he said. “You have to shoot in between your heartbeats.”
As such, knowing the enemy is important. There is extensive training and reconnaissance required to secure information on whom he and his team were targeting.
In the field of battle, many humans can look like who you’re looking for from a thousand yards away. Chris gets down to intimate detail on what type of body language to expect, what type of movements they might make; what is threatening, what isn’t.
So much goes into what he looks at and considers. Simply laying on something stable and being a good shot, Chris said, is probably the easiest part of what he does.
‘It felt like I lost a family member’
We talked extensively about an operation in Ramadi, where he watched two of his SEAL brothers get shot.
One, Mark Lee, died on the spot. He was shot in the mouth while trying to shout a warning to his SEAL brothers.
Ryan Job was the first man shot. He was hit by an enemy sniper. He survived, blinded by the shot to the head, and would die three years later.
That day still haunts Chris Kyle.
“I just sat down, put my back up against the wall, curled my knees up to my chest, put my head in my knees and started bawling,” he said. “It felt like I lost a family member.”
It’s the day he regrets most in his SEAL sniper career. When I asked him about any regrets on his killing record, however, it’s an emphatic “no.”
“My only regrets are the guys I couldn’t save. That’s what keeps me up at night,” he said. “But every shot I took, I feel extremely justified.”
He readily admits that not all of his kills were easy ones. His first ever was a woman and it came with even more complicated circumstances.
She had a live grenade in her hand, he said, and was about to face down Marines who were moving into Fallujah.
With angst in his heart and questions swirling in his head, he took the shot on his commander’s order and saved the inbound Marines.
He said it was a tough psychological call. One that bothered him.
But he was under order, and said he knows if he didn’t fire, Marines would have been injured or, at worst, killed by that hand grenade.
It’s hard to even comprehend being in that position, let alone taking that kind of shot. It’s a poignant moment in his book.
I get the impression that he has never taken that shot lightly. There are strong opinions out there on either side of taking the shot or not taking that shot.
Despite any criticism, Chris Kyle says he has no regrets.
A ‘Legend’ steps down
The man I met is not a man who kills for joy, records, or any other reason besides protecting his Marine and Army brothers in arms.
He’s a proud Navy SEAL.
He loved his service to this country; that’s plainly evident in the time I spent with him.
That’s not in a boastful way, either, but more in a soft-spoken, firmly committed way. He makes no bones about it, though: He wishes he was still in service to this country.
‘The Legend,’ as his SEAL brothers call him because of his record number of kills, would like very much to be right back in the fight, protecting his men and spending days and nights in the same spot.
But now, Chris spends time waiting on his kids to get out of school.
It’s a turnabout for the former SEAL and it came after a face-to-face meeting with his wife Taya at their kitchen table in 2009.
“I took it as an ultimatum,” he said. “Either you get out, or she and my kids were going to be gone.”
This was after nearly eight years in combat. In three years, Chris had been home just six months.
She needed her husband back. Or she and their two children would have to move on to a life without Chris.
As much as this country needed Chris Kyle, Taya needed him as well.
Emotionally, she told me she was at the end. She thought it might be over. The man she loved to the core, would he love his service to this country over her?
She would find out. At that table, face-to-face, she gave him the ultimatum.
“Of course he looked at that and thought the marriage would be over, and you know what, he’s probably right,” Taya said. “I honestly didn’t think that far ahead.”
Chris Kyle –– a decorated Navy SEAL, the man who the enemy in Ramadi nicknamed ‘The devil of Ramadi’ –– was hit by a shot he says he didn’t see coming.
A sniper of a different sort had caught him flat. He was dead in the crosshairs, and the emotional bullet landed right between his eyes.
Chris chose the love of his life over the love of his gun and country.
The Chris Kyle I met is clearly in love with his wife and his kids.
He readily admits that he wants to be back there in the fight, gun in hand.
He loves the brotherhood. Nothing can replace that.
But he told me there is also nothing in this world more important than family.
It starts there, which is what made his emotional decision an easy one.
“She means the world to me, especially the kids I didn’t really have the opportunity to know,” Chris told me. “I want to make sure they knew their dad, and know how much I love them.”
He enjoys being home working on his new business, which contracts to the military and teaches –– of all things –– sniper skills.
He loves being a dad, seeing his kids off to school, tucking them into bed at night. This was something he never got to do during his lengthy deployments.
He’ll be remembered and revered and studied in the military history books.
But now he’ll be loved like no other and cared for until the day his soul departs this earthly world by his family.
He summed it up with this statement: “It’s time for me to step back from the military and give them my all.”
In my mind, he’s a winner on both counts.