It was my duty to shoot, and I don’t regret it. The woman was already dead. I was just making sure she didn't take any Marines with her.
It was clear that not only did she want to kill them, but she didn't care about anybody else nearby who would have been blown up by the grenade or killed in the firefight. Children on the street, people in the houses, maybe her child. She was too blinded by evil to consider them. She just wanted Americans dead, no matter what.
Getting through BUD/S and being a SEAL is more about mental toughness than anything else. Being stubborn and refusing to give in is the key to success. Somehow I'd stumbled onto the winning formula.
"I would lay down my life for my country," he answered. "How is that self-centered? That’s the opposite."
He was so idealistic and romantic about things like patriotism and serving the country that I couldn't help but believe him.
Fuck, I thought to myself, this is great. I fucking love this. It’s nerve-wracking and exciting and I fucking love it.
The people we were fighting in Iraq, after Saddam's army fled or was defeated, were fanatics. They hated us because we weren't Muslim. They wanted to kill us, even though we'd just booted out their dictator, because we practiced a different religion than they did.
Isn't religion supposed to teach tolerance?
People say you have to distance yourself from your enemy to kill him. If that's true, in Iraq, the insurgents made it really easy. My story earlier about what the mother did to her child by pulling the pin on the grenade was only one gruesome example.
The fanatics we fought valued nothing but their twisted interpretation of religion. And half the time they just claimed they valued their religion—most didn't even pray. Quite a number were drugged up so they could fight us.
One time I woke up to him grabbing my arm with both of his hands. One hand was on the forearm and one just slightly above my elbow. He was sound asleep and appeared to be ready to snap my arm in half, I stayed as still as possible and kept repeating his name, getting louder each time so as not to startle him, but also to stop the impending damage to my arm. Finally, he woke and let go.
Slowly, we settled into some new habits, and adjusted.
I signed up to protect this country. I do not choose the wars. It happens that I love to fight. But I do not choose which battles I go to. Y'all send me to them. I had to wonder why these people weren't protesting at their congressional offices or in Washington. Protesting the people who were ordered to protect them—let's just say it put a bad taste in my mouth.
I didn’t go to a doctor. You go to a doctor and you get pulled out. I knew I could get by.
As far as I can see it, anyone who has a problem with what guys do over there is incapable of empathy. People want America to have a certain image when we fight. Yet I would guess if someone were shooting at them […] they would be less concerned with playing nicely […] picking apart a soldier's every move against a dark, twisted, rule-free enemy is more than ridiculous; it's despicable.
A half-second's more hesitation, and I would have been the one bleeding out on the floor. They turned out to be Chechens, Muslims apparently recruited for a holy war against the West. (We found their passports after searching the house.)
I shot the first beach ball. The four men began flailing for the other three balls.
I shot beach ball number two.
It was kind of fun.
Hell—it was a lot of fun.
I never once fought for the Iraqis. I could give a flying fuck about them.
I had trouble holding my tongue. At one point, I told the Army colonel, "I don't shoot people with Korans—I'd like to, but I don't." I guess I was a little hot.
When he reenlisted anyway, I thought, Okay. Now I know. Being a SEAL is more important to him than being a father or a husband.
As I watched them coming from the post, I spotted an insurgent moving in behind them.
I fired once. The Marine patrol hit the dirt. So did the Iraqi, though he didn't get up.
We would bump out five hundred yards, six or eight hundred yards, going deep into Injun territory to look and wait for the bad guys. We'd set up on overwatch ahead of one of his patrols. As soon as his people showed up, they'd draw all sorts of insurgents toward them. We'd take them down. The guys would turn and try and fire on us; we'd pick them off. We were protectors, bait, and slayers.
If you loved them, I thought, you should have kept them away from the war. You should have kept them from joining the insurgency. You let them try and kill us—what did you think would happen to them?
It's cruel, maybe, but it's hard to sympathize with grief when it's over someone who just tried to kill you.
I thought Ryan was dead. Actually, he was still alive, if just barely. The docs worked like hell to save him. Ryan would eventually be medevac'd out of Iraq. His wounds were severe—he’d never see again, not only out of the eye that had been hit but the other as well. It was a miracle that he lived. But at that moment at base, I was sure he was dead. I knew it in my stomach, in my heart, in every part of me. I'd put him in the spot where he got hit. It was my fault he'd been shot.
We requested to be cleared hot to shoot anyone on a moped. The request was denied […] Meanwhile, the insurgents kept using mopeds and gathering intelligence. We watched them closely and destroyed every parked moped we came across in houses and yards, but that was the most we could do.
Maybe legal expected us to wave and smile for the cameras.
"Where are you?" asked Taya when I finally got a hold of her.
"I got arrested."
“All right,” she snapped. "Whatever."
I can’t say I blamed her for being mad. It wasn’t the most responsible thing I've ever done. Coming when it did, it was just one more irritant in a time filled with them—our relationship was rapidly going downhill.
He got up in front of the room and started telling us that we were doing things all wrong. He told us we should be winning their hearts and minds instead of killing them […] I was sitting there getting furious. So was the entire team, though they all kept their mouths shut. He finally asked for comments.
My hand shot up.
I made a few disparaging remarks about what I thought we might do to the country, then I got serious. "They only started coming to the peace table after we killed enough of the savages out there," I told him. "That was the key."
It was a kid. A child.
I had a clear view in my scope, but I didn't fire. I wasn't going to kill a kid, innocent or not. I'd have to wait until the savage who put him up to it showed himself on the street.
In the simulations, my blood pressure and heart rate would start out steady. Then, once we got into a firefight, they would drop. I would just sit there and do everything I had to do, real comfortable.
As soon as it was over and things were peaceful, my heart rate would just zoom.
If there is a poster child for overcoming disabilities, Ryan was it. After the injury, he went to college, graduated with honors, and had an excellent job waiting for him. He climbed Mount Hood, Mount Rainer, and a bunch of other mountains; he went hunting and shot a prize trophy elk with the help of a spotter and a gun with some bad-ass technology; he competed in a triathlon. I remember one night Ryan said that he was glad it was he who got shot instead of any of the other guys.
If my son was to consider going into SEALs, I would tell him to really think about it. I would tell him that he has to be prepared.
I think it's horrible for family. If you go to war, it does change you, and you have to be prepared for that, too. I'd tell him to sit down and talk to his father about the reality of things.
Sometimes I feel like crying just thinking about him in a firefight.
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.