When I flew to Dallas in December 2010 to meet Chris Kyle, I was both excited and nervous – it’s one thing to meet someone you’ve heard a lot about, and quite another to meet a hero you’ve heard a lot about. Not only was Chris a Navy SEAL, he’d won a bunch of medals for bravery, including at least one Silver Star that could easily have been a Medal of Honor. Not only was Chief Petty Officer Kyle a distinguished veteran of the most distinguished special operations unit in the world, he was also the most successful U.S. military sniper in the world. He was more than good at what he did – he was, without argument, the best.
As a writer especially, I know better than to form a preconceived notion about anyone. Still, by the time Scott picked me up at the airport, I had a mental image of Chris that topped ten feet tall. So it wouldn’t have been very surprising if that image got cut down to size when he and I met out at a friend’s ranch the next day.
It didn’t. Oh, Chris isn’t ten feet tall, though he’s a good sight over six feet and built like a pile driver. But he’s got the sort of personality a fiction writer wouldn’t dare invent for a hero, because it would come off as too perfect: straight-at-you, humble to the point of self-effacing, generous and (though I’m sure the warrior within him will wince) kind.
Now, that’s not all Chris is. He’s a cowboy to the bone, and despite the fact that he claims he would never call himself this, a true Texas bad ass. You sure don’t want to get into a fight with him, not a real one anyway, because he’ll kick your ass even if you are ten feet all. And forget about gunplay – the man can kill you at 2,100 yards without even bothering to check on the wind.
The thing about Chris is that he has respect for other people, which unfortunately is something that’s ever rarer than shooting skill or fighting abilities. And he’s the kind of guy who when he says he has someone’s back, means it.
Anyway, we sat down in a large room at the ranch and had a couple of beers and started talking. Pretty soon he was talking about Iraq and some of the scrapes he’d been in. I’m not sure how or why a Texas cowboy, let alone a SEAL sniper, got along so well with a New York “yankee” who “talks funny,” but we did. Maybe it was the beers. Or maybe it was just the way Chris is: if he decides he’s doing something, whether it’s becoming a SEAL or writing a book, he goes all the way.
We talked a lot that night, and the next day and the next. Chris’s wife Taya came down and we all shared some incredibly emotional moments discussing what they both went through trying to keep their marriage together in the middle of the war.
For the next several months, just about the better part of a year, we kept on talking. Every discussion was a revelation, not so much about facts but the strength of Chris and his fellow SEAL brothers as they dealt with the realities of keeping this country free. The tragedy of friends’ deaths, the triumph of seeing his babies born – it all just kept coming.
A lot of this was very difficult for him. His dad, a huge influence in his life, told me later that after the first weekend Chris and I had met, Chris was as battered as he’d ever seen him. Going back and reliving Iraq took a huge mental toll. I’m sure it still does – even though not once has he complained about it.
Putting Chris’s words into book form was a challenge, not because they were hard to understand or ineloquent, but because I wanted to present readers with Chris Kyle, not Chris Kyle as interpreted by someone else. The temptation to embellish – or even make his Texas twang sound a little more like New Yorkeese – was difficult to resist. I had to keep at it. I finally got to the point where I was hearing his voice in my head when I got up in the morning and when I went to sleep at night. Maybe I would have been better off if I drew the line before saying “y’all have a good day” to the guy at the bagel shop, but you take the good with the bad.
Getting Taya into the book was another high priority. We learn a lot about warriors, but precious little about their family. That’s a shame, really, because Taya and the kids experienced war at the same time Chris did, albeit from a different direction. Taya’s a real warrior in her own right – she fought for her family as strenuously as Chris fought for his country. At the same time, she helped her husband build an exceptionally strong relationship with his children, a difficult thing for a dad to do under any circumstances.
This book isn’t going to make Chris Kyle a hero; he’s already done that himself. The fact that he’ll wince at that line makes Chris, Chris.
I hope the unvarnished truth that we tried to present here will come through. We tried not to pretty things up. If the book feels raw and immediate, that's perfect.
I know some of what’s in the book, maybe a lot of it, will make people uncomfortable. War’s like that. Ugly and exhilarating and scary as hell at the same time. But so is all of life.
Words are a poor substitute for meeting the man in person. I think anyone who’s had the privilege and honor of meeting Chris Kyle will agree. I hope you get a chance to shake his hand and thank him for his courage. But in the meantime, his words are probably the best introduction to what it’s like to be a Navy SEAL and a sniper in war.
I’m proud to call Chris a friend, and I’m honored to have
helped him write his book.