Kyle ships out of Iraq in late August 2008. It feels surreal to be leaving the Middle East for, probably, the last time. Back in the U.S., Kyle participates in a scientific research program designed to measure the effects of stress on soldiers. Scientists tell Kyle that when he enters a crisis, such as a firefight, his blood pressure and heart rate actually drop—exactly the opposite of how the average person would react.
Kyle has become so numb to death and danger that he actually relaxes when he’s in a high-stress situation. Years in the SEALs have trained him to embrace danger, with the result that the periods between combat are actually more anxiety-inducing for Kyle than combat itself.
Kyle is sorely tempted to reenlist, even though he promised Taya that he wouldn’t. Taya insists that Kyle’s children need him, even more than his country needs him. Kyle tries to find a compromise: he speaks to a Navy officer, who tells him that he could work in Texas as a recruiter. However, the only way for Kyle to get this job would be to first reenlist in the SEALs. Kyle, suspicious, tells the Navy recruiter, “thanks, but no thanks—I’m getting out.” Taya says, “I believe not one of [Kyle’s fellow SEALs] would blame him for getting out.”
Even after going to marriage counseling and coming back to America, Kyle continues to feel that he should be fighting in Iraq. While Kyle himself doesn’t admit it in this passage, it’s strongly implied that Kyle feels guilty about abandoning his fellow SEALs in the middle of a war. Nevertheless, Taya insists that Kyle isn’t betraying his friends at all by leaving Iraq to be with his wife and kids.
Kyle remains in the U.S., and keeps in touch with Ryan, who’s lost both of his eyes. Kyle is amazed and inspired by Ryan’s sense of humor and optimism. One day, he sees a little girl ask Ryan how he lost his eyes—deadpan, Ryan crouches down and tells the girl, “Never run with scissors.” Kyle is also impressed that Ryan’s girlfriend marries him after his accident. Ryan goes back to college, graduates with honors, and gets a good job. He also gets into hiking and hunting. Kyle concludes, “If there is a poster child for overcoming disabilities, Ryan was it.”
Kyle adjusts to his new civilian life with the help of his veteran friends. Just as Ryan’s accident contributed enormously to Kyle’s ongoing sense of guilt and shame, reuniting with Ryan, and continuing to be friends with him, mitigates Kyle’s guilt. Even though Kyle is the older soldier, Ryan becomes his role model: he shows Kyle that it’s possible to have a normal, happy life even after the most traumatic military service.
In 2010, Kyle learns that Ryan and his wife are expecting a child. However, Ryan has to go back to the hospital for further surgeries stemming from his time in Iraq. During one surgery, Ryan dies tragically.
Ryan’s life comes to a sudden, tragic end; even so, he inspires Kyle to try to live a more happy, fulfilling life with his own family.
Kyle writes about Marc Lee, the SEAL who died shortly after Ryan was shot in Iraq. Lee was an incredibly optimistic person. After his death, his mother, Debbie Lee, became active in veteran affairs; she’s currently the president of a veterans’ organization called America’s Might Warriors.
Kyle turns to other role models for life after the SEALs, such as Marc Lee’s mother. Like Debbie, Kyle gets heavily involved in veteran affairs, spending time with veterans suffering from PTSD (a decision that, tragically, led to his death in 2013, when a disturbed veteran shot him).
Kyle tries to move on with his life, but doesn’t know what to do now that he’s out of the SEALs. He and an old friend named Mark Spicer, a former sergeant major in the British Army, toss around the idea of starting a sniping school in the U.S. Together, Kyle and Spicer found Craft International, a sniper training program with corporate offices in Texas. Kyle enjoys running Craft International, even if it requires him to wear a suit and tie at times. The company slogan is, “Despite what your mama told you, violence does solve problems.”
Kyle founds a sniping school: it’s the perfect way for him to continue his military training in a civilian environment. The slogan of Craft International testifies to Kyle’s love for fighting and killing.
Kyle settles his family in Texas, so that he can continue running the business. Being around his children helps him dissolve the “shell I built up during the war.” He bonds with his son and daughter, and has a great time goofing off with them both. He’s extremely close with his daughter, and begins teaching his son how to shoot when he’s only two years old. He and Taya talk about sending their children into the military. Kyle insists that he wants his son to join the military at some point, but Taya says, “I think Chris has done enough for the country so that we can skip a generation. But we’ll both be proud of our children no matter what.”
Veterans suffering from trauma don’t always recover from their psychological wounds. Luckily, Kyle seems to readjust to civilian life, in large part thanks to his love for his wife and children. However, it’s important to notice that the memoir doesn’t resolve one of the central tensions of the book, between service to country and service to family. Thus, it’s not clear if Kyle and Taya’s children will serve in the military, or if they’ll reject their parents’ lifestyle altogether. Perhaps we’re left to make up our own minds about the virtues of military service, and to decide if it’s possible to serve one’s country and raise a happy family.
Although being around his wife and children relaxes him, Kyle continues to struggle with memories of the war. He drinks heavily, and one night he drunkenly drives off the road, totaling his car. Amazingly, he survives without a scratch. Kyle claims that the car accident woke him up. He cuts down on drinking and makes more of an effort to adjust to civilian life.
Kyle continues to struggle with symptoms of trauma, such as drinking, fighting, and general danger-seeking. However, he makes progress, cutting down on drinking and pushing himself to embrace his new lifestyle back in the States.
Kyle becomes involves in veteran affairs; he invites veterans to ranches and shooting ranges and shows them a good time. He finds that “wounded veterans don’t need sympathy”—the best strategy is to treat them normally. Kyle also supports programs designed to put veterans to work. He notes, “There’s no reason someone who has fought for their country should be homeless or jobless.”
Much like Debbie Lee, Kyle finds meaning in his new civilian life by fighting for veterans. Kyle’s decision to work for fellow veterans is especially tragic, considering that it was a veteran who murdered Kyle in 2013.
After many years of serving in the military, Kyle no longer defines himself as a SEAL—first and foremost, he is a father and a husband. He rediscovers his deep love for Taya, and misses her when he’s on business trips. Taya admits that both she and Chris have made some mistakes in their marriage, but they continue to love each other deeply.
For most of the memoir, Kyle defines himself as a SEAL first and a husband second. Now, he defines himself as a husband and father first and a soldier second. Unlike the vast majority of SEALs, Kyle remains married to Taya, reinforcing his new conviction.
Kyle admits that his experiences in war have changed him deeply: they taught him to embrace death and go to “the Dark Side.” He’s learned to kill people “like it’s no big deal.” But he killed people in Iraq because he sincerely loved his country, and wanted to keep Americans safe. He concludes that, when he dies and goes to the afterlife, God will understand why he shot people—“They all deserved to die.” His biggest regrets in life are the people he failed to save—his fellow soldiers.
Kyle makes the same basic point he’s been making throughout the book: every single one of the people he shot and killed in Iraq deserved to die. At times, it can be very difficult to believe Kyle on this, considering his flippant, dismissive attitude towards human rights laws and the people of Iraq in general. Kyle’s allusion to the “Dark Side” might suggest the trauma and guilt he’s endured as a result of being a soldier. However, Kyle barely touches on his trauma in his memoir, meaning that we have to read between the lines to imagine what he went through during and after the war.
Kyle’s experiences in Iraq have made him stronger and more mature. Small things don’t bother him or stress him out—he writes, “There are bigger and worse things that could happen than to have this tiny little problem wreck your life … I’ve seen them. More: I’ve lived them.”
Kyle ends on an optimistic note: he’s lived a thrilling, adventurous life, and has become a calmer, more mature person as a result. It’s hard to care about small, civilian things when he’s spent so much of his adult life making life-or-death decisions.