You wouldn’t know it by talking to the soft-spoken, invariably polite Texan, who addresses his interviewer as “sir,” but Chris Kyle is the deadliest man in American military history. The now-retired Navy SEAL sniper has 255 kills to his credit, 160 of which have been confirmed by the Department of Defense. That distinction earned him the nickname “the legend” among his fellow SEALs, Marines and soldiers, while Iraqi insurgents, for the same reason, dubbed him “the Devil of Ramadi.” Kyle’s deadly accuracy is only part of his story, however. In his ten years of service in the Navy SEALs, from 1999 to 2009, Kyle served four tours in Iraq, was shot on six occasions and involved in six different IED explosions. A fearsome marksman, he was a constant threat to insurgents, even recording a kill from 2,100 yards away. For his service, Kyle was awarded two Silver Stars and five Bronze Stars with Valor. Kyle joined FrontPage to discuss his new book, American Sniper: The Autobiography of the Most Lethal Sniper in U.S. Military History.
FP: The Pentagon credits you with 160 kills as a sniper, which is more than any other American service member, past or present. In American Sniper, you write that the overall number is not important to you. But are there any kills that stand out in your mind as especially significant or memorable?
CK: Probably the most memorable was in Ramadi. My SEAL platoon was providing cover for Marines as they searched abandoned houses for insurgents. That’s when they came under attack. Soon they were engaged in a draining firefight. I was in a building about 200 yards away, trying to catch out the bad guys whenever they came into view. At one point in the battle, the Marines moved out to clear some houses. It was then that I saw an insurgent armed with a rocket-propelled grenade emerge and head toward them. I’m not sure if the RPG would have gone off, but if it had, the Marines would have been in trouble. They couldn’t see him coming. I took my shot, right over the head of the Marines, and took him down. With all the shooting going on, the Marines didn’t know what was happening. One of the Marines got on the radio and asked why the hell I was shooting at them. I got on the radio and responded, “I’m not shooting at you dumbass, I’m shooting over your head! Look down the street!” Afterwards, the Marines were asking who had been shooting over them. I spoke up and said it was me. Then one of the Marines took his gloves off. He was the one who I’d called a dumbass on the radio. I figured I was in trouble at that point. Instead he said, “I want to shake your hand. You saved my ass out there!” I don’t think I’ve ever seen a more grateful Marine.
FP: Iraqi insurgents nicknamed you “Al-Shaitan Ramad,” or the “Devil of Ramadi” and offered an $80,000 bounty for killing or capturing you. How did that nickname come about and how did it make you feel to be singled out with a price on your head?
CK: It made me feel pretty good. So much of warfare is getting into the psyche of your enemy. That’s why the military invests so much in psychological operations. When they put a price on my head, I thought, “I’m actually having an effect on the war.” As for the devil part, I think it was a confirmation that I was a pretty lethal sniper. I took at it as proof that I was raining devastation down on the enemy. The only thing with that is the insurgents put out a picture so I could be identified. But when I saw the picture, it turned out to actually be a buddy of mine. I thought, “Good, I’ll let him take the rap!”
FP: You write that you have a clear conscience about doing your job as a sniper. Indeed, you wish that you had killed more insurgents while in the line of duty. In our politically correct age, that might sound like a shocking admission. Can you elaborate on what you mean? What is it about the day-to-day work of gunning down enemy insurgents that inspired you, that drove you on?
CK: Well, like you said earlier, I didn’t care about numbers. It’s not about how many insurgents I killed. It’s not killing for the sake of killing. I saw my role more as a guardian angel if you will. I was protecting the guys on the ground. I saw guys go down under insurgent fire, and my only thought was to stop that from happening. I still wish I could have done more. I wish I could have taken out more of the enemy before they had a chance to fire a shot. If I had managed to do that, maybe more Americans would have come home. And not just American troops. There were also other coalition forces, plus Iraqi civilians that we were trying to protect. That responsibility is what inspired me.
FP: As you say, a key job of a sniper is protecting his fellow soldiers from enemies of whose presence they are often unaware. How did you cope with the life-or-death pressure of being your comrades’ crucial and sometimes last line of defense?
CK: To be honest, it really gets to you. Seeing guys come home in body bags brings you down. At one point, while serving in Iraq, I called my wife back home on a satellite phone and I just broke down crying. I felt that I hadn’t done enough, that more guys would have come home if I had done more. But that’s also what kept me going. Whether it was the guys on the left or the guys on my right, my job was to make sure they came home safe. That’s what being a sniper is all about.
FP: Your preferred weapon reportedly is the .300 Winchester Magnum custom sniper rifle. Why that particular rifle?
CK: At the time I was serving, it was the most accurate rifle available to me.
FP: Your most storied kill happened in Baghdad’s Sadr City in 2008, when you killed an insurgent armed with a rocket launcher from over 2,100 yards away just as he approached an Army convoy. What does it take to be that accurate from that distance?
CK: A lot of luck. I got very lucky on that shot. To hit a guy from that distance, everything has to fall into place. You have to concentrate. There can be no vibration in your rifle. You have to calculate the wind speed and the wind direction and control for the effect that would have on the trajectory of your bullet. You have to adjust for elevation. You have to control your heart rate – it has to be slow and steady – and squeeze easy on the trigger. As far as that shot goes, as I write in the book, “God blew on that bullet and hit him.”
FP: You now run a military contracting firm that helps train the next generation of American snipers. What kinds of values and skills do you try to instill in your trainees?
CK: I can’t discuss tactics with a civilian but what I can say is that we try to make sure that they learn professional discipline. A lot of the guys who come for training already have combat experience. They already have many of the skills. What we try to do is to make sure they become even more proficient at what they do and they do the right thing when its required.
FP: Do you follow the success of Seal Team Six, which killed Osama Bin Laden and which just launched a successful raid on Somali pirates, and if so what do you think of their work?
CK: It’s awesome. They did an amazing job rescuing the hostages. SEALS are bad-asses and this is the kind of thing that they do day-to-day. I’m sure there is a lot more that the public will never hear about. I’m sure they didn’t even want this hostage rescue story to get out. But it’s a great reminder of what the SEALs are trained to do and what they’re capable of.
FP: What do you hope readers take away from your book?
CK: I wrote this book not just to tell my story but to tell the story of the hardship that our men and uniform face as well as the hardships their families back home face. People always say that they want to give back to the troops but they’re not sure how. I think the best thing they can do is to perform random acts of kindness. Mow a soldier’s yard. Babysit for them while they go out to dinner or out on a date. Sometimes they can’t do those things. Sometimes they don’t have time to go out or they can’t take a nap. Help them out, even if it’s in a small way. I can tell you that goes much further than just going up to them and saying thank you.
FP: Chris Kyle, on behalf of Front Page Magazine and our readers, thank you for your time and for your heroic service to our country.