On a hot summer day, Kyle walks through Ramadi with the other SEALs, scanning for insurgents. He and Ryan Job are joking and laughing—Ryan is a funny guy, and always makes Kyle feel better. Kyle tells Ryan to stand on the side of the road, providing backup. Then, suddenly, shots fly out. After a few seconds, the shots subside—but Kyle turns and sees that Ryan has taken a bullet to the head, and he’s bleeding heavily. Kyle thinks that Ryan’s going to die; then, Ryan coughs and says, “I’m good. I got this.” Kyle walks Ryan to a personnel vehicle, which rushes Ryan to the hospital. Kyle is devastated by Ryan’s injury, and worries that he’ll lose his friend.
In this frightening scene, Kyle makes an innocent mistake: he tells his friend, Ryan Job, to stand on the street. However, Kyle’s order turns out to be a bad call, putting Job into the line of fire. Kyle, thinking that he’s inadvertently killed his close friend, is consumed by grief, guilt, and self-hatred—notably, things he doesn’t feel after killing Iraqis.
In the end, Ryan is evacuated from Iraq with severe wounds. He survives with his life but loses his vision. Kyle feels guilty for telling Ryan to stand by the road—it was he who put Ryan “in the spot where he got hit.” The SEALs agree that they need to go back into Ramadi and “get some payback” for Ryan.
Notice that the SEALs’ response to Ryan’s injury is to go back into battle and avenge their friend’s death. In the culture of machismo, any act of aggression, whether it’s a shove in a crowded bar or a shot at a friend, must be retaliated against.
The SEALs get a tipoff that the insurgents who fired on Ryan are hiding in a house nearby. They raid the house, but find no insurgents. While they’re gathered outside, a bullet hits Marc Lee in the head. Kyle sees that the fire is coming from a nearby house—he realizes that someone must have set up the Marines, sending a tip about the wrong house. Kyle realizes that now, Marc Lee is going to die. Tony, Kyle’s chief, gives the order that the SEALs need to stand down before they lose any more men.
The SEALs’ attempts to “get payback” for Ryan Job’s attack fail initially: they’re ambushed by insurgents, and end up losing another SEAL, Marc Lee. Tony, recognizing that morale and organization in the platoon is falling apart, wisely orders the SEALs to stand down and regroup before they have another accident.
Back at base, Kyle calls Taya and breaks down while telling her the sad news. Taya feels sorry for her husband, though she’s grateful that he wasn’t killed. In Ramadi, the troops hold a memorial service for Marc Lee, and the SEALs stand in the front row: as Kyle says, “We were his family.” Marc Lee is the first SEAL to die in Iraq. In the following weeks, Kyle spends more time than usual reading the Bible. He continues to feel guilty for putting Ryan in danger.
We see another aspect of the conflict between country and family. Marc Lee’s fellow SEALs stand in the front row at his funeral, the area traditionally reserved for the family of the deceased. This might suggest that SEALs like Lee and Kyle don’t just experience a tension between family and country—instead, their fellow soldiers become their true family.
Despite missing seven men (Ryan, Marc, the soldier with a shrapnel injury, and the four soldiers who traveled back to the U.S. with Marc’s body), Kyle and the rest of his platoon decide to continue fighting, rather than “taking it easy.” The platoon gets seven new recruits—SEALs who haven’t seen much active duty yet. Kyle and his friends haze the recruits, but also respect them for their courage and humility.
Even after the tragedies of Ryan Job and Marc Lee, the SEALs continue to wage all-out war against the insurgents. Furthermore, the culture of machismo persists, with the older, more experienced SEALs hazing the younger recruits. The process of hazing is a critical part of building their unity and brotherhood.
The SEAL platoon tours Ramadi, isolating bombs and clearing buildings suspected of harboring insurgents. The platoon works closely with a fleet of Apache helicopters, which provide useful backup. The helicopters also provide the platoon with surveillance information about potential insurgent bases.
The U.S. military continues to enjoy a tremendous technological advantage over the insurgents in Iraq.
One day, Kyle sees two potential insurgents riding a moped. They stop and drop a heavy-looking backpack into a manhole on a busy street—it appears that they’re planting a bomb. Kyle kills both insurgents with one shot, noting, “The taxpayer got a good bang for his buck on that one.” Afterwards, Kyle begins to notice that Iraqis who ride mopeds are always carrying heavy backpacks, probably containing bombs. He asks his superior officers for permission to shoot anyone riding a moped—but much to his irritation, this request is denied. Kyle also complains that he was forced to write a “shooter’s statement” for every person he killed. Supposedly, statements are supposed to protect Kyle if there’s ever an investigation for an unjustified killing, but Kyle believes that the statements are designed to “cover the butts of people much further up the chain of command.” He complains that writing a shooter statement is just “the red tape of war.”
Kyle offers an unusually thorough account of bureaucracy in Iraq. Kyle dislikes having to write statements after killing an insurgent; he thinks this process serves no purpose other than to protect his superiors from getting court-martialed. While many soldiers and journalists argued that the war in Iraq was too disorganized and chaotic, Kyle offers the opposite point of view: he believes that the war was too bureaucratic and bogged down in red tape. Terrifyingly, he suggests that he be given the right to murder anyone in Ramadi seen riding a moped, and seems genuinely perplexed when his superiors deny his request. Kyle seems unable to understand why his commanding officers might want to protect the lives of innocent Iraqis—suggesting, once again, that Kyle has no respect for Iraqi lives.
Kyle continues to discuss the bureaucracy of the war in Iraq. He notes that there were lawyers, journalists, and reporters in Iraq, alongside the troops. Every time a reporter filmed a soldier, it seemed, “the Marines got in trouble.” Marines didn’t only have to worry about fighting the insurgents; they had to worry about being court-martialed for breaking rules. Kyle says, “Most Americans can’t take the reality of war, and the report they sent back didn’t help us at all,” and adds, “Tell the military the end result you want, and you’ll get it. But don’t try and tell us how to do it.”
Kyle expresses his irritation with human rights and international law; by his account, the U.S. military should be allowed to do whatever it wants in Iraq (including, by Kyle’s own reckoning, murdering anyone riding a moped or carrying a copy of the Koran).
In September 2006, Kyle learns from Taya that their daughter is sick with leukemia. Kyle is devastated by the news, and decides that he needs to leave Iraq to be with his family. Kyle feels guilty about leaving his fellow soldiers behind in their time of need.
Kyle’s time in Iraq is drawing to a close: his family’s need for him is growing, while his fellow SEALs’ remains the same.