Chris Kyle returns from his first deployment. Taya immediately notes how war has changed him: he’s moody and always angry. Sometimes, he wakes up in the middle of the night, screaming. One afternoon, he accidentally activates the burglar alarm in his house, and takes several minutes to realize that he is the “intruder.” But slowly, with Taya’s help, he begins to adjust to his new civilian life.
In this passage, mostly narrated in Taya’s voice, we see what Kyle himself would never admit: the violence of war has changed his personality. Kyle’s strange experience with the burglar is an apt metaphor for his mental state. In many ways, Kyle’s own greatest enemy isn’t the Iraqi insurgency; it’s himself, in the sense that his trauma is slowly destroying him.
While he’s back in the U.S., Kyle goes to sniper school. Guns have fascinated Kyle since he was a small child, and he knows that the SEAL sniping school is the best in the world. In school, Kyle learns about the importance of “stalking”—in other words, sneaking into a position from which to shoot. Sniper school teaches Kyle two vital skills: patience and discipline. Another important lesson he learns: “You’re not graded on your first shot; you’re graded on your second.” In other words, good snipers need to conceal their positions and remain inconspicuous.
At first Kyle doesn’t serve as a sniper, but during his second deployment, as we’ll see, Kyle starts to show tremendous aptitude as a sniper. Kyle is attracted to sniping because it’s important, challenging work, and because it involves great strategy as well as great bravery—the sniper’s job isn’t just to shoot lots of insurgents, but to conceal his own position while doing so.
Kyle takes a moment to talk about the weapons he uses in Iraq. Sometimes, he uses the Mk-12, a gun that’s easy to handle and assemble. On other occasions, he prefers the Mk-11, a semiautomatic with more power than the Mk-12, though he notes that the Mk-11 has a habit of jamming. Kyle also describes the .300 Winchester Magnum, a heavy, highly accurate weapon (and his personal favorite). Kyle also takes a moment to describe the scopes that he uses as a sniper. In the Middle East, he uses a 32-power scope, i.e., a tool that can magnify any view by thirty-two times. Kyle also uses Nightforce scopes in order to shoot in the middle of the night.
Kyle is clearly a highly trained professional when it comes to guns—and he also clearly just likes guns, and finds them “badass.” He accumulates an enormous amount of experience during his time in Iraq, and here he shares his thoughts and opinions about the various kinds of guns and ammunition he used throughout his service.
Sniper school gives Kyle the training in science and mathematics he needs to be a good shooter. He learns about factors that can affect sniping at long distances, such as humidity, which can decrease accuracy, and the Coriolis effect—i.e., the way that the Earth’s rotation can impact the motion of a bullet.
Kyle doesn’t just familiarize himself with guns and ammunition; he learns about the science and mathematics of shooting, so that he can be the deadliest sniper possible.
Surprisingly, Kyle flunks his practice test at the beginning of sniper school. However, he learns quickly, and by the end of his time in school, he’s an accomplished shooter. Yet Kyle acknowledges that he’s by no means the best shooter in the military; indeed, he only graduates in the middle of his class. A world-class sniper stationed in a relatively safe part of the world will never kill many people, he says. In other words, Kyle killed a lot of people because of “opportunity,” not just talent.
Although Kyle goes on to become the deadliest sniper in American military history, he’s not a particularly exceptional shot. Kyle kills a lot of insurgents, not so much because of his talent but because he’s given a free reign in Iraq. Kyle’s use of the word “opportunity” seems a little disturbing, since it implies, once again, that he’s eager (and not merely willing) to kill people.
After finishing sniper school, Kyle returns to boot camp to train for Iraq. As usual, he struggles with aquatic training. During one exercise, off the coast of San Diego, a shark bites Kyle’s fin—luckily, he’s able to kick off the fin and swim away before the shark bites him. Kyle continues with diving exercises but never enjoys them or excels at them.
As a SEAL, Kyle is required to train for air and sea, as well as land (indeed, SEAL stands for SEa, Air, and Land); however, land maneuvers are clearly Kyle’s specialty.
Around the same time, Taya and Kyle have a baby boy. Kyle feels more nervous watching his wife give birth than he ever was in combat. Taya is overjoyed to be having a child, but also angry with Kyle for going back to the Middle East so soon after the birth of his son.
The passage emphasizes the basic conflict between Kyle’s loyalty to his family and his loyalty to his country: at this point in the book, Kyle is more loyal to his country (though he still loves his wife and child).
Before returning to the Middle East, Kyle attends navigation school. Navigation is an important skill for SEALs, but it’s not as exciting as shooting or fighting. Kyle learns how to use satellite images to calculate the fastest routes; in the end, he’s shipped back to the Middle East early because of his skills as a navigator.
In the end, Kyle’s impressive skillset enable him to spend more time in Iraq as a soldier (which is, perhaps, what he intended when he went to navigation school in the first place).