Excerpt from American Sniper: The Autobiography of the Most Lethal Sniper in U.S. Military History by Chris Kyle with Scott McEwen and Jim DeFelice (William Morrow, $26.99)
Late March 2003. In the area of Nasiriya, Iraq
I looked through the scope of the sniper rifle, scanning down the road of the tiny Iraqi town. Fifty yards away, a woman opened the door of a small house and stepped outside with her child.
The rest of the street was deserted. The local Iraqis had gone inside, most of them scared. A few curious souls peeked out from behind curtains, waiting. They could hear the rumble of the approaching American unit. The Marines were flooding up the road, marching north to liberate the country from Saddam Hussein.
It was my job to protect them. My platoon had taken over the building earlier in the day, sneaking into position to provide "overwatch"--prevent the enemy from ambushing the Marines as they came through.
It didn't seem like too difficult a task--if anything, I was glad the Marines were on my side. I'd seen the power of their weapons and I would've hated to have to fight them. The Iraq army didn't stand a chance. And, in fact, they appeared to have abandoned the area already.
The war had started roughly two weeks before. My platoon, "Charlie" (later "Cadillac") of SEAL Team 3, helped kick it off during the early morning of March 20. We landed on al-Faw Peninsula and secured the oil terminal there so Saddam couldn't set it ablaze as he had during the First Gulf War. Now we were tasked to assist the Marines as they marched north toward Baghdad.
I was a SEAL, a Navy commando trained in special operations. SEAL stands for "SEa, Air, Land," and it pretty much describes the wide ranges of places we operate. In this case, we were far inland, much farther than SEALs traditionally operated, though as the war against terror continued, this would become common. I'd spent nearly three years training and learning how to become a warrior; I was ready for this fight, or at least as ready as anyone can be.
The rifle I was holding was a .300 WinMag, a bolt-action, precision sniper weapon that belonged to my platoon chief. He'd been covering the street for a while and needed a break. He showed a great deal of confidence in me by choosing me to spot him and take the gun. I was still a new guy, a newbie or rookie in the Teams. By SEAL standards, I had yet to be fully tested.
I was also not yet trained as a SEAL sniper. I wanted to be one in the worst way, but I had a long way to go. Giving me the rifle that morning was the chief's way of testing me to see if I had the right stuff.
We were on the roof of an old rundown building at the edge of a town the Marines were going to pass through. The wind kicked dirt and papers across the battered road below us. The place smelled like a sewer--the stench of Iraq was one thing I'd never get used to.
"Marines are coming," said my chief as the building began to shake. "Keep watching."
I looked through the scope. The only people who were moving were the woman and maybe a child or two nearby.
I watched our troops pull up. Ten young, proud Marines in uniform got out of their vehicles and gathered for a foot patrol. As the Americans organized, the woman took something from beneath her clothes, and yanked at it.
She'd set a grenade. I didn't realize it at first.
"Looks yellow," I told the chief, describing what I saw as he watched himself. "It's yellow, the body--"
"She's got a grenade," said the chief. "That's a Chinese grenade."
"Take a shot."
"Shoot. Get the grenade. The Marines--"
I hesitated. Someone was trying to get the Marines on the radio, but we couldn't reach them. They were coming down the street, heading toward the woman.
"Shoot!" said the chief.
I pushed my finger against the trigger. The bullet leapt out. I shot. The grenade dropped. I fired again as the grenade blew up.
It was the first time I'd killed anyone while I was on the sniper rifle. And the first time in Iraq--and the only time--I killed anyone other than a male combatant.
It was my duty to shoot, and I don't regret it. The woman was already dead. I was just making sure she didn't take any Marines with her.
It was clear that not only did she want to kill them, but she didn't care about anybody else nearby who would have been blown up by the grenade or killed in the firefight. Children on the street, people in the houses, maybe her child...
She was too blinded by evil to consider them. She just wanted Americans dead, no matter what.
My shots saved several Americans, whose lives were clearly worth more than that woman's twisted soul. I can stand before God with a clear conscience about doing my job. But I truly, deeply hated the evil that woman possessed. I hate it to this day.
Savage, despicable evil. That's what we were fighting in Iraq. That's why a lot of people, myself included, called the enemy "savages." There really was no other way to describe what we encountered there.
People ask me all the time, "How many people have you killed?" My standard response is, "Does the answer make me less, or more, of a man?"
The number is not important to me. I only wish I had killed more. Not for bragging rights, but because I believe the world is a better place without savages out there taking American lives. Everyone I shot in Iraq was trying to harm Americans or Iraqis loyal to the new government.
I had a job to do as a SEAL. I killed the enemy--an enemy I saw day in and day out plotting to kill my fellow Americans. I'm haunted by the enemy's successes. They were few, but even a single American life is one too many lost.
I don't worry about what other people think of me. It's one of the things I most admired about my dad growing up. He didn't give a hoot what others thought. He was who he was. It's one of the qualities that has kept me most sane.
As this book goes to print, I'm still a bit uncomfortable with the idea of publishing my life story. First of all, I've always thought that if you want to know what life as a SEAL is like, you should go get your own Trident: earn our medal, the symbol of who we are. Go through our training, make the sacrifices, physical and mental. That's the only way you'll know.
Second of all, and more importantly, who cares about my life? I'm no different than anyone else.
I happen to have been in some pretty bad-ass situations. People have told me it's interesting. I don't see it. Other people are talking about writing books about my life, or about some of the things I've done. I find it strange, but I also feel it's my life and my story, and I guess I better be the one to get it on paper the way it actually happened.
Also, there are a lot of people who deserve credit, and if I don't write the story, they may be overlooked. I don't like the idea of that at all. My boys deserve to be praised more than I do.
The Navy credits me with more kills as a sniper than any other American service member, past or present. I guess that's true.
They go back and forth on what the number is. One week, it's 160 (the "official" number as of this writing, for what that's worth), then it's way higher, then it's somewhere in between. If you want a number, ask the Navy--you may even get the truth if you catch them on the right day.
People always want a number. Even if the Navy would let me, I'm not going to give one. I'm not a numbers guy. SEALs are silent warriors, and I'm a SEAL down to my soul. If you want the whole story, get a Trident. If you want to check me out, ask a SEAL.
If you want what I am comfortable with sharing, and even some stuff I am reluctant to reveal, read on.
I've always said that I wasn't the best shot or even the best sniper ever. I'm not denigrating my skills. I certainly worked hard to hone them. I was blessed with some excellent instructors, who deserve a lot of credit. And my boys--the fellow SEALs and the Marines and the Army soldiers who fought with me and helped me do my job--were all a critical part of my success. But my high total and my so-called "legend" have much to do with the fact that I was in the shit a lot.
In other words, I had more opportunities than most. I served back-to-back deployments from right before the Iraq War kicked off until the time I got out in 2009. I was lucky enough to be positioned directly in the action.
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.
I loved what I did. I still do. If circumstances were different--if my family didn't need me--I'd be back in a heartbeat. I'm not lying or exaggerating to say it was fun. I had the time of my life being a SEAL.
People try to put me in a category as a bad-ass, a good ol' boy, asshole, sniper, SEAL, and probably other categories not appropriate for print. All might be true on any given day. In the end, my story, in Iraq and afterward, is about more than just killing people or even fighting for my country.
It's about being a man. And it's about love as well as hate.
Images from Chris Kyle's life and career as the most lethal sniper in U.S. military history. All images courtesy William Morrow.