by John Hawkins | January 28, 2015 2:48 am
All of these quotes come from Chris Kyle’s book, “ American Sniper: The Autobiography of the Most Lethal Sniper in U.S. Military History.” Enjoy!
There’s another question people ask a lot: Did it bother you killing so many people in Iraq? I tell them, “No.” And I mean it. The first time you shoot someone, you get a little nervous. You think, can I really shoot this guy? Is it really okay? But after you kill your enemy, you see it’s okay. You say, Great. You do it again. And again. You do it so the enemy won’t kill you or your countrymen. You do it until there’s no one left for you to kill. That’s what war is.
Everybody gets water-boarded during training. The idea is to prepare you in case you’re captured. The instructors tortured us as hard as they could, tying us up and pounding on us, just short of permanently damaging us.
Before we deployed, Taya and I chose to get married. The decision surprised both of us. One day we started talking in the car, and we both came to the conclusion that we should get married. The decision stunned me, even as I made it. I agreed with it. It was completely logical. We were definitely in love. I knew she was the woman I wanted to spend my life with. And yet, for some reason, I didn’t think the marriage would last. We both knew that there is an extremely high divorce rate in the SEALs. As a matter of fact, I’ve heard marriage counselors claim that it is close to 95 percent, and I believe it.
Some of the people we had working for us were not exactly the best of the best, nor were all of them particularly fond of Americans. They caught one jerking off into our food. He was quickly escorted from the base. The head shed—our commanding officers—knew that as soon as everyone found out what he’d done, someone would probably try and kill him.
Our ROEs (Rules of Engagement) when the war kicked off were pretty simple: If you see anyone from about sixteen to sixty-five and they’re male, shoot ’em. Kill every male you see.
WHEN YOU’RE WORKING WITH ARMY AND MARINE CORPS units, you immediately notice a difference. The Army is pretty tough, but their performance can depend on the individual unit. Some are excellent, filled with hoorah and first-class warriors. A few are absolutely horrible; most are somewhere in between. In my experience, Marines are gung ho no matter what. They will all fight to the death. Every one of them just wants to get out there and kill. They are bad-ass, hard-charging mothers.
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.
The people we were fighting in Iraq, after Saddam’s army fled or was defeated, were fanatics. They hated us because we weren’t Muslim. They wanted to kill us, even though we’d just booted out their dictator, because we practiced a different religion than they did.
AT ANOTHER LOCATION, WE FOUND BARRELS OF CHEMICAL material that was intended for use as biochemical weapons. Everyone talks about there being no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, but they seem to be referring to completed nuclear bombs, not the many deadly chemical weapons or precursors that Saddam had stockpiled. Maybe the reason is that the writing on the barrels showed that the chemicals came from France and Germany, our supposed Western allies.
I’m not a patient person, but I learned that to succeed as a stalker I need to take my time. If I know I’m going to kill someone, I will wait a day, a week, two weeks. Make that, I have waited.
But the truth is that if you shoot the .50 through a vehicle’s engine block, you’re not actually going to stop the vehicle. Not right away. The fluids will leak out and eventually it will stop moving. But it’s not instant by any means. A .338 and even a .300 will do the same thing. No, the best way to stop a vehicle is to shoot the driver. And that you can do with a number of weapons.
On this particular day, I was beneath the ship and had just planted my mine when something grabbed my fin. SHARK!!! Then I put my heart back in my chest, remembering all the stories and warnings about my brethren SEALs. Just one of the guys messing with my head, I told myself. I turned around to flip him off. And found myself giving the finger to a shark who’d taken a particular liking to my flipper. He had it in his jaw.
We were on the Kitty Hawk when they were having a problem with gangs. Apparently, some punk sailors who were gang members were causing quite a discipline problem aboard ship. The CO of the boat pulled us over and told us when the gang used the gym. So we went down to work out, locked the door behind us, and fixed the gang problem.
I did see signs on some homes supporting the troops, saying “We love you” and that sort of thing. And there were plenty of tearful and respectful sendoffs and homecomings, some even on TV. But it was the ignorant protesters I remembered, years and years later.
WHILE WE WERE ON THE BERM WATCHING THE CITY, WE WERE also watching warily for an Iraqi sniper known as Mustafa. From the reports we heard, Mustafa was an Olympics marksman who was using his skills against Americans and Iraqi police and soldiers. Several videos had been made and posted, boasting of his ability. I never saw him, but other snipers later killed an Iraqi sniper we think was him.
A LOT OF PEOPLE WHO HAVE WRITTEN ABOUT THE BATTLES IN Fallujah mention how fanatical the insurgents were. They were fanatical, but it wasn’t just religion that was driving them. A good many were pretty doped up.
I often would sit there and think, “I know this motherf*cker is bad; I saw him doing such and such down the street the other day, but here he’s not doing anything, and if I shoot him, I won’t be able to justify it for the lawyers. I’ll fry.” Like I said, there is paperwork for everything. Every confirmed kill had documentation, supporting evidence, and a witness. So I wouldn’t shoot.
All told, I would end my career as a SEAL with two Silver Stars and five Bronze Medals, all for valor. I’m proud of my service, but I sure as hell didn’t do it for any medal. They don’t make me any better or less than any other guy who served. Medals never tell the whole story. And like I said, in the end they’ve become more political than accurate. I’ve seen men who deserved a lot more and men who deserved a lot less rewarded by higher-ups negotiating for whatever public cause they were working on at the time. For all these reasons, they are not on display at my house or in my office.
As far as I can see it, anyone who has a problem with what guys do over there is incapable of empathy. People want America to have a certain image when we fight. Yet I would guess if someone were shooting at them and they had to hold their family members while they bled out against an enemy who hid behind their children, played dead only to throw a grenade as they got closer, and who had no qualms about sending their toddler to die from a grenade from which they personally pulled the pin—they would be less concerned with playing nicely.
I remember getting my Thanksgiving meal. They halted the assault for a little bit—maybe a half-hour—and brought up food to us on the rooftop where we’d set up. Turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, green beans for ten—all in a large box. Together. No separate boxes, no compartments. All in one pile. Also no plates, no forks, no knives, no spoons. We dipped our hands in and ate with our fingers. That was Thanksgiving. Compared to the MREs we’d been eating, it was awesome.
I WAS WATCHING FROM THE ROOF ONE AFTERNOON WHEN A group of roughly sixteen fully armed insurgents emerged from cover. They were wearing full body armor and were heavily geared. (We found out later that they were Tunisians, apparently recruited by one of the militant groups to fight against Americans in Iraq.) Not unusual at all, except for the fact that they were also carrying four very large and colorful beach balls. I couldn’t really believe what I was seeing—they split up into groups and got into the water, four men per beach ball. Then, using the beach balls to keep them afloat, they began paddling across. It was my job not to let that happen, but that didn’t necessarily mean I had to shoot each one of them. Hell, I had to conserve ammo for future engagements. I shot the first beach ball. The four men began flailing for the other three balls. Snap. I shot beach ball number two. It was kind of fun. Hell—it was a lot of fun. The insurgents were fighting among themselves, their ingenious plan to kill Americans now turned against them. “Y’all gotta see this,” I told the Marines as I shot beach ball number three. They came over to the side of the roof and watched as the insurgents fought among themselves for the last beach ball. The ones who couldn’t grab on promptly sank and drowned. I watched them fight for a while longer, then shot the last ball. The Marines put the rest of the insurgents out of their misery.
But I didn’t risk my life to bring democracy to Iraq. I risked my life for my buddies, to protect my friends and fellow countrymen. I went to war for my country, not Iraq. My country sent me out there so that bullsh*t wouldn’t make its way back to our shores.
On the front of my arm, I had a crusader cross inked in. I wanted everyone to know I was a Christian. I had it put in in red, for blood. I hated the damn savages I’d been fighting. I always will. They’ve taken so much from me.
I decided to see if we could flush them out. I always carried an American flag inside my body armor. I took it out and strung some 550 cord (general-purpose nylon rope sometimes called parachute cord) through the grommets. I tied the line to the lip on the roof, then threw it over the side so it draped down the side of the building. Within minutes, half a dozen insurgents stepped out with automatic machine guns and started shooting at my flag. We returned fire. Half of the enemy fell; the other half turned and ran. I still have the flag. They shot out two stars. Fair trade for their lives, by my accounting.
I realize that a lot of the problem has to do with the screwed-up culture in Iraq. These people had been under a dictatorship for all their lives. Iraq as a country meant nothing to them, or at least nothing good. Most were happy to be rid of Saddam Hussein, very happy to be free people, but they didn’t understand what that really meant—the other things that come with being free. The government wasn’t going to be running their lives anymore, but it also wasn’t going to be giving them food or anything else. It was a shock. And they were so backward in terms of education and technology that for Americans it often felt like being in the Stone Age.
BEFORE EVERY OP, A BUNCH OF THE PLATOON WOULD GATHER and say a prayer. Marc Lee would lead it, usually speaking from the heart rather than reciting a memorized prayer. I didn’t pray every time going out, but I did thank God every night when I got back.
I’d see the families of the insurgents display their grief, tear off clothes, even rub the blood on themselves. If you loved them, I thought, you should have kept them away from the war. You should have kept them from joining the insurgency. You let them try and kill us—what did you think would happen to them? It’s cruel, maybe, but it’s hard to sympathize with grief when it’s over someone who just tried to kill you.
Every time I killed someone in Ramadi I had to write a shooter’s statement on it. No joke. This was a report, separate from after-action reports, related only to the shots I took and kills I recorded. The information had to be very specific. I had a little notebook with me, and I’d record the day, the time, details about the person, what he was doing, the round I used, how many shots I took, how far away the target was, and who witnessed the shot. All that went into the report, along with any other special circumstances.
The way I figure it, if you send us to do a job, let us do it. That’s why you have admirals and generals—let them supervise us, not some fat-ass congressman sitting in a leather chair smoking a cigar back in DC in an air-conditioned office, telling me when and where I can and cannot shoot someone. How would they know? They’ve never even been in a combat situation. And once you decide to send us, let me do my job. War is war.
The ROEs (Rules of Engagment) got so convoluted and f*cked-up because politicians were interfering in the process. The rules are drawn up by lawyers who are trying to protect the admirals and generals from the politicians; they’re not written by people who are worried about the guys on the ground getting shot.
I’m not saying war crimes should be committed. I am saying that warriors need to be let loose to fight war without their hands tied behind their backs. According to the ROEs I followed in Iraq, if someone came into my house, shot my wife, my kids, and then threw his gun down, I was supposed to NOT shoot him. I was supposed to take him gently into custody. Would you?
YOU KNOW HOW RAMADI WAS WON? We went in and killed all the bad people we could find. When we started, the decent (or potentially decent) Iraqis didn’t fear the United States; they did fear the terrorists. The U.S. told them, “We’ll make it better for you.” The terrorists said, “We’ll cut your head off.” Who would you fear? Who would you listen to? When we went into Ramadi, we told the terrorists, “We’ll cut your head off. We will do whatever we have to and eliminate you.” Not only did we get the terrorists’ attention—we got everyone’s attention. We showed we were the force to be reckoned with. That’s where the so-called Great Awakening came. It wasn’t from kissing up to the Iraqis. It was from kicking butt.
All through everything else, there had been points where I thought, I’m going to die. But I never did die. Those thoughts were fleeting. They evaporated. After a while, I started thinking, they can’t kill me. They can’t kill us. We’re f*cking undefeatable. I have a guardian angel and I’m a SEAL and I’m lucky and whatever the hell it is: I cannot die. Then, all of a sudden, within two minutes I was nailed twice. Motherf*cker, my number is up.
When I think about the patriotism that drives SEALs, I am reminded of Ryan recovering in a hospital in Bethesda, Maryland. There he was, freshly wounded, almost fatally, and blind for life. Many reconstructive surgeries to his face loomed ahead. You know what he asked for? He asked for someone to wheel him to a flag and give him some time. He sat in his wheelchair for close to a half-hour saluting as the American flag whipped in the wind.
WHAT WOUNDED VETERANS DON’T NEED IS SYMPATHY. THEY need to be treated like the men they are: equals, heroes, and people who still have tremendous value for society. If you want to help them, start there.
I’d like us to remember the suffering of those Americans who were injured serving this country before we dole out millions to slackers and moochers. Look at the homeless: a lot are vets. I think we owe them more than just our gratitude. They were willing to sign a blank check for America, with the cost right up to their life. If they were willing to do that, why shouldn’t we be taking care of them? I’m not suggesting we give vets handouts; what people need are hand-ups—a little opportunity and strategic help.
Honestly, I don’t know what will really happen on Judgment Day. But what I lean toward is that you know all of your sins, and God knows them all, and shame comes over you at the reality that He knows. I believe the fact that I’ve accepted Jesus as my savior will be my salvation. But in that backroom or whatever it is when God confronts me with my sins, I do not believe any of the kills I had during the war will be among them. Everyone I shot was evil. I had good cause on every shot. They all deserved to die.
MY REGRETS ARE ABOUT THE PEOPLE I COULDN’T SAVE—Marines, soldiers, my buddies. I still feel their loss. I still ache for my failure to protect them.
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