Kyle was born in north-central Texas, in a small town. He was brought up to be patriotic and respect traditions. He always had a strong sense of justice, and has always considered himself a Christian. He’s loved guns for his entire life—even as a child, he hunted deer with his father. Kyle’s father was a successful manager at AT&T, but he encouraged his son to do what he loved. Kyle and his brother fought a lot growing up. However, Kyle remains very close with his brother.
In order to understand what kind of man Kyle is, it’s important to understand his roots. Kyle was brought up to feel a strong respect for authority (family, country, God), and to fire weapons. Notice that Kyle feels very close with his brother, despite—or perhaps because—they fought a lot. Many of the close male relationships in this book are strengthened by fighting.
Kyle’s family taught him to be respectful and brave. He got in fights, but he rarely started them—rather, he believed that it was his duty to protect others. Kyle’s parents were both hard workers, and they encouraged him to keep busy, too. As a teenager, Kyle worked as a ranch-hand, tending bulls. As a boy, his “first gun” was the Daisy multi-pump BB rifle. At the age of seven or eight, Kyle received his first rifle, a bolt-action 30-06. At first he found this weapon frightening, but he quickly learned how to use it.
As the passage might suggest, owning a gun, and taking care of it, is a vital part of growing up for Kyle. As Kyle learns how to use his rifle, he becomes more confident and mature. Throughout the book, guns represent manhood, bravery, and machismo.
As a teenager, Chris Kyle loved the idea of being a cowboy. Like any good cowboy, he learned how to break a horse—i.e., stay on a horse until it quit bucking. Kyle proved to be good at breaking horses, and by the end of high school he was competing in rodeos. After high school, he continued to compete, and won many medals for his efforts.
It’s interesting that Kyle grew up wanting to be a cowboy, not a soldier. The two professions have a lot in common—both are hyper-masculine, physically challenging, and potentially very dangerous. However, being a cowboy (and competing in rodeos) is a more exhibitionist, theatrical job—perhaps suggesting Kyle’s flair for self-promotion.
Kyle attended college at Tarleton State University, an agricultural university. He continued going to rodeos until the end of his freshman year, when an accident left him with a dislocated shoulder, effectively ending his career. He worked at a lumberyard for the rest of college, and eventually became a real cowboy, working on a ranch. During this period, Kyle continued to hone his rifle skills by shooting raccoons and other pests. He also learned how to train horses, a skill that taught him patience and drive—both important qualities for a SEAL.
Kyle’s time as a cowboy prepared him for his military service in many respects: it improved his skills with a gun and taught him how to be patient.
In 1996, Kyle signed up for the military. A recruiter, impressed with his skill as a cowboy and a marksman, suggested that he become a SEAL, at the time a relatively obscure branch of the military. The SEALs were an elite group, and Kyle liked the challenge of becoming a SEAL—he also found the stories of UDTs (the predecessors to the SEALs, who fought in World War II and Vietnam) to be “badass.” However, Kyle was dismayed when he failed his medical examination, due to his old rodeo injuries. Kyle believed he’d never be able to become a SEAL. Not long after failing his medical examination, however, Kyle got a call from a recruiter, who invited him to join the navy and train to be a SEAL. Without any hesitation, Kyle packed his bags.
Notably, this passage marks Kyle’s first use of the word “badass,” one of his favorite descriptors. Kyle wants to serve his country faithfully, risking his life if necessary—but he also wants to be cool and impress other people with his “badass,” macho behavior. Thus, Kyle doesn’t hesitate to join the SEALs when he’s given the opportunity.