Thursday, February 26, 2015

American Sniper by Chris Kyle (Book Review #19 of 2015)

American Sniper: The Autobiography of the Most Lethal Sniper in U.S. Military History
Since the movie got so much attention and I was hearing how "every American should see it," yet how Kyle exaggerated various stories, how it portrayed the Iraq war in too nice a light, yet how it was helpful in shedding light on PTSD. Both praised and cursed, I thought I'd read the book for myself.

First of all, it's a pretty tame book-- perhaps even boring for a war autobiography. Kyle notes that he didn't get his 160+ kills mostly by his skill, but rather by opportunities (staying alive, re-upping, and seeing plenty of targets in Iraq) and luck (being at the right place at the right time). Lone Survivor (my review) is a more interesting/intense book if are looking for adrenaline and close calls. By the end of this book, killing becomes "no big deal," and what was probably harrowing and dangerous seems pretty mundane and routine. You probably need a movie theater to make it better.

I think the endearing aspect is that Taya Kyle writes parts of it, describing what a jerk Kyle was, how it was difficult to be married, the changes she saw in him after his deployments, and her love for him growing as he finally decided to put his family first and not re-enlist. Most books of this nature don't have the spouse's perspective, so that made it interesting. At the Oscar's last week, Taya is quoted:
"It's not just our story; it's every veteran's story," she said. "People have been relating to it so much, as well as healing. We're hearing stories of couples who were in combat 30 and 40 years ago, who are walking away [from the film], opening a dialogue they haven't been able to open before. So, I think it's just an honor to be able to help in some way, and have it be more than just our story.""

The book begins similarly to Lone Survivor because, like Marcus Luttrell (who Kyle later befriends), Chris Kyle was raised a Texas patriotic country boy who can simultaneously profess love for Jesus while cursing like a sailor. He was an effective cattle ranch hand and college dropout. He was initially denied Navy entry due to screws in his arm from a rodeo injury. After the Navy called him back,  a recruiter lied to him to forfeit his signing bonus saying that he had to do it if he wanted to make the SEALs.

His Hell Week and BUDs training read a lot like every other such story I've read. He broke foot in BUDs (Luttrell broke his arm in his story). He's disappointed not to see combat in Afghanistan after 9/11, but he does engage in anti-piracy activity and his platoon is called up a year later to fight in Iraq. His initial deployment seemed unremarkable, Taya notes that he returns with symptoms of PTSD. He appreciates the American well-wishers but remembers the protestors most of all, and bitterly. He makes a good point that people shouldn't protest soldiers sent to fight the battles that elected officials vote for-- protest Congress instead.

He eventually enrolls in sniper school, but graduates about the middle of his class. He details the work he did with Polish special forces in Iraq, speaking highly of them. During the insurgency, he notes Iraqi insurgents of different stripes-- nationalists, Baathists, Al Qaeda-affiliated Islamists. He notes that they had evidence many were on drugs to "boost their courage."

Repeatedly, Kyle puts country ahead of family as in "God, country, family." His wife continuously does not want him to redeploy, but he can't not. So long as he's healthy and his country is at war (which is now perpetually), he feels he has to go serve. It takes him over 10 years in the service to get over this. He does multiple tours before suffering any casualties among his close friends. He loses two friends close together, and it affects him deeply.

There is not a whole lot related to leadership or management in this book. One good quote: "I had a lot of good commanders. The great ones were humble."
He notes the tediousness of strict adherence to Rules of Engagement. How every kill in Ramadi (and he had a lot) required filling out a detailed after-action report along with other reports to confirm that the killing was justified. On one occasion an Iraqi family of a dead insurgent protested that her husbands had been carrying a Koran  rather than a rifle, which gets investigated. Kyle is not complimentary of Iraqi army, writing that it was a mistake to put an Iraqi face on the war and to train them to take over in the middle of insurgency.

He gets arrested on one homestay, a bar fight with "scruff face" who Kyle later claimed was Jesse Ventura, who is now suing Kyle's estate for $1.7 million. (Dude, just say "it couldn't have been me" and move on. The damage to your reputation is greater from the lawsuit than from Kyle's potentially mistaken claim.) Eventually, he decides he needs to be a husband and a father, that he's not irreplaceable to his family like a soldier is with a new recruit. It took him a lnog time to get over SEAL life and guilt over getting out, but he gets there.

In the end, he helped start a company to train snipers, does charity work for wounded warriors, and finds a new identity apart from the old. It is a shame that he was killed by someone he was trying to help.
3.5 stars out of 5.

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