by Robert Patrick Lewis
I couldn’t be more proud at all the accomplishments that veterans and, especially, members of the SOF (Special Operations Forces) community, have made during the past decade, both in and out of uniform. I’ve seen various spats between other vets working their way towards success in the public eye for books, movies, websites, podcasts, etc., and I can’t help but hang my head in shame a bit every time I see that.
As my former Green Beret brother, close friend and 18D course classmate Klint Janulis (who now has a reality show on the BBC and is working towards his Ph.D. at Oxford) loves to say, “a rising tide lifts all ships,” in respect to those of us who have formed alliances outside of our time in uniform to help each other with our pet projects.
I am part of a group called “The Military Media Mafia,” comprised of book publishers, magazine publishers, and a radio network. The work is of veterans, by veterans, and for, well, anybody who loves veterans and wants to hear what we have to say.
I do everything I can to support other veteran projects. As such, I found myself with a little free time one day last week, so my girlfriend and I decided to take ourselves to see “American Sniper.”
Before I get started, I have to admit that I have not read the book, and as a veteran author, I know that makes me a bad person! But, I should say, I’ve just finished writing my own (“The Pact,” available next week through Tactical 16 Publishing) and try to stay away from reading other military works while writing my own, so as not to subconsciously plagiarize in any way, shape or form.
With that out of the way … I loved this movie. There are people who complain about the fact that the book was written by two ghostwriters, which took it a few steps away from Chris Kyle’s own words, and the screenplay was then written by another non-veteran Hollywood type, taking it another step away from reality. But, all in all, this movie captured things that no other war movie on the OIF/OEF (Operation Iraqi Freedom/Operation Enduring Freedom) conflicts ever have.
There are only two movies I’ve seen on our engagements in Iraq and Afghanistan which have done those conflicts the justice of reality, and those films are “Restrepo” (an amazing documentary I suggest everyone see), and now, “American Sniper.”
I loved “Restrepo” because it showed the reality of war fighters in Afghanistan and the real face of war that visiting politicians, generals, celebrities on USO tours and journalists who hide behind the Green Zone hardly ever see.
Living in the dirt, daily firefights/mortar/rocket attacks, living on whatever food you can scrounge and a shower every month or so. That was my Afghanistan, and while many who spent their time in Kabul, Bagram or Helmand never lived that, I know my (Green Beret) brothers and I sure did.
“American Sniper” showed another side of war that “Restrepo” touched on, but took it to a whole new level. Academics have pondered the causes and effects of PTSD since the Vietnam War, and while the books “On Killing” and “On Combat” by Lt. Col. Dave Grossman (must-reads for anyone who loves and wants to understand a combat veteran) were the first to address this in an academic sense, American Sniper was the first I’ve seen to truly address it in the public eye.
This movie portrayed the following in such great and vivid detail that I found myself shedding tears throughout the movie; thankfully, we were all alone in the Town Center theatre at the matinee showing, and thankfully, Natalie knows me well enough that she didn’t have to ask why. They weren’t particularly sad parts of the movie, but several that were glaringly familiar to my life and experiences in war and at home.
Being in Special Operations, both the SEAL teams that Kyle was a part of and Operational Detachments-Alpha (ODA’s) that I was a part of, we have the privilege of going after extremely High Value Targets (HVT’s) while we are at war. A thing that separates us from other units is that we don’t just go get the bad guys; we study them, learn their patterns, the bad things they’ve done, and get inside of their heads.
In doing so, we see the darkest depths of the human soul, and levels of depravity no man should ever have to know exists in the world. Kyle was criticized in the public eye from many fronts by calling the Iraqi’s “savages” multiple times, but those of us who have been in that community and on those missions know exactly what he was talking about.
Sometimes we get the bad guys, and for us it’s a happy ending. We find, target, locate and kill or capture people that do despicable things to other human beings, and the world is a safer place.
Other times, however, we spend all of that time preparing to get the bad guys, and as “American Sniper” showcases his hunt for “the butcher” on his first tour, we return home without the satisfaction of introducing them to a prison cell or their maker.
The toll this takes on your psyche is difficult to describe, and as a parent it keeps you awake at night, knowing that your tour ended before you could get this evil human being, that he’s still out there, and that there is a chance, albeit a small one, that evil could come here to our shores and harm our families and countrymen.
Another aspect of war that is excellently showcased in this movie was that of the time between deployments. Kyle and I were both members of the “four deployments” club, and while his were all in Iraq, mine were hopping back and forth between Iraq and Afghanistan, so at least I had the pleasure of changes in scenery!
A part of multiple deployments that is difficult to describe and even harder to understand is the feeling that you don’t “belong” home. It defies all logic, but makes perfect sense to us combat veterans.
We know we’ll be miserable back in Iraq or Afghanistan, that the food is horrible, we’ll rarely eat, sleep or shower, and only get to talk to our loved ones via satellite phone or shoddy internet connection occasionally. But despite all of those truths, we know that our place is there. We know that we are the “sheepdogs,” and that it is our place in life to protect those who need our protection. As the Green Beret motto goes, “De Oppresso Liber: To Free the Oppressed.”
Although it is amazing to be back home, in the comfort of our beds, hopefully wrapped in the arms of loved ones, there is an emptiness in our souls, knowing that other Americans are in harm’s way and we are sitting comfortably at home.
Veterans are respected by our country for our selfless service, but it is that very same selflessness that keeps us awake at night, feeling guilty for allowing ourselves a break from the horrors of war.
I don’t want to give too much of the movie away, but I felt that with all of the other people in the country weighing in, veterans or not, I had to give my two cents. This movie was extremely gratifying from an entertainment perspective, and extremely honest from a Special Forces combat veteran perspective.
I highly suggest that everyone see it, especially those of you who know and/or love a combat veteran. There are certain things they just can’t tell you, not because of security clearances, but because of our own walls, barriers, and unwillingness to bring our knowledge of the darkest depths of human depravity back to our own shores.
Go see this movie, enjoy it for the entertainment, but learn something about the veterans around you, what they’ve gone through, what they’re dealing with, and why sometimes they just need a little time to themselves after coming home.