September 19, 2005: 21-year-old Kyle entered boot camp. For 13 weeks, he was not allowed to sleep more than four hours at a time, and every waking hour his superiors barked orders at him and he was expected to carry twice his weight on a grueling, three-day trip known as the crucible. By the end of training, like the Borg, Kyle was successfully assimilated into the Marines.
“They mess with your head, they will break you down,” he said. His eyes lit up as he explained the process. “If you do something, it’s wrong. Something stupid, just putting on your socks, you did it wrong. You’re not doing it fast enough; you’re not doing it slow enough. They break you down, and then they rebuild you.”
Although he admits the method is ridiculous (several trainees lost confidence in themselves), Kyle believes in it. “You come out of it with a lot of pride,” he said.
Kyle grew up in a small town in Northern California. He has two younger siblings: a 17-year-old sister and a 9-year-old brother. Gwen, his best friend from home, described his family as “Conservative and Christian.” However, Kyle was not nearly as Conservative or Christian before joining the Marines, she added. He used to be a “goof-ball,” and was not afraid to break the rules; now he follows them without question, she said.
The decision to become a Marine was not a difficult one, Kyle said without pause, as he stretched out in a white patio chair on the balcony of a well-furnished college apartment. His answer comes as a surprise, not only because the Military is such a huge-and possibly risky-commitment but also because of his lax nature and assertiveness. This choice seems it should require much thought and discussion, even the Marines website stresses the difficulty in making this decision and encourages those who are considering joining to thoroughly discuss it with their parents.
In Kyle’s case, both his uncle and cousin were Marines. Kyle talked about joining the Marines since his sophomore year in high school, because of family ties and because he did not have good enough grades to be accepted into a four year college.
“If you join the military, especially the Marines, that was accepted and revered in their family,” Gwen said. Kyle’s father had also wanted to be a Marine and fight in the Vietnam War, but his mother managed to talk him out of it. To this day, his father regrets his decision.
By the end of boot camp, Marines know how to properly shoot a rifle, carry a “dead” man around an obstacle course, correctly apply face paint, and shoot flares, which Kyle thought was “kinda fun.” He likes putting on face paint because “you look like Rambo.”
After three months, Kyle reunited with his family at the ceremony which officially made him a Marine. Until then, they had only communicated via letters and two brief phone calls. The first phone call, Kyle’s superiors told him to “tell your family you are being treated well, and you are being fed.” Then he immediately hung up “because the drill instructor [was] looking at me.” He did not miss his family until he graduated boot camp.
The day Kyle formally became a Marine was a Thursday. It was the day he received the Eagle, Globe, and Anchor: “the symbol of a Marine,” an important icon because it represents a proud country, worldwide service and maritime tradition.
His family positioned themselves as close to Kyle as possible to watch him in his formation. He managed to keep “a straight face” while accepting the Anchor, which pleased him because his superiors “had instilled so much discipline” in him.
“It’s a touching moment. It’s one of the best feelings that you ever get,” Kyle said, looking thoughtful. He said he almost cried. One recruiter told Kyle that the only other time he was as emotional as the day he became a Marine was “when he held his kids for the first time.”
While stationed in Iraq, Kyle’s training proved its usefulness. In his fourth month, he drove a hummer for a nighttime operation. Along the way, he lost control of his vehicle. The car turned upside-down, and “water rushed in. We had gone into a canal.” However, Kyle’s discipline allowed him to remain calm, kick open the door and swim to shore to safety.
“No one luckily was seriously injured,” Kyle happily reported. “I had a cut, it was just a scratch, no stitches or anything, but I didn’t take care of it ’cause I knew it would scar up really cool,” he said, and pointed to the scar on his right wrist, chuckling.
Another memorable moment for Kyle was hearing a bullet whizz past his ear. At the time, he was on post guard duty.
Kyle’s first instinct after he heard the shootings was to grab his rifle and look for the shooter, he said as he knelt on the ground and re-enacted his role. “I tried poking my head out and all of a sudden I hear ‘zzz whomp.’ I was like, ‘dude, they’re shooting right at me man.'”
A Marine with a 50 caliber machine gun spotted the shooters in the trees. He yelled to his colleagues for confirmation of the attackers, but without time to wait for a response, he began to shoot.
“All of a sudden you just hear ‘boo, boo, boo, boo BOOM,’ and this thing’s a powerful gun,” Kyle exclaimed. “It was an awesome sight,” Kyle marveled, likening his fellow Marines to the soldiers defending Troy.
That was the closest Kyle has been to bullets. Although he has seen dead bodies, he never witnessed a death. If a close friend were to die in a firefight, Kyle said he might feel less confident about the US entering the war.
The only time Kyle said he felt fearful was when he and his platoon were sent to check a bridge for traffic and were attacked. Still, he was afraid only because he held the radio, which made him an easier target. He and his unit ran to a nearby house, where other Marines were stationed, “suppressing” the enemy. Kyle said he wanted to go to the roof to shoot, but was told to stay downstairs because he had the antennae.
“Stupid, stupid radio,” he grumbled.
Kyle has been in six firefights.
“Others got lucky and got more,” he declared. “A few people didn’t get shot at, at all,” he said. “If you’re an infantry marine, you strive for combat because that’s what you are trained to do.”
As a Marine, Kyle’s said it is his job to fight. “One of the objects of war is to kill the enemy, and when you fight in firefights it lowers their numbers,” he explained.
To consider oneself “lucky” to participate in multiple shoot-outs contradicts the views of other military men who have either spoken out against the war or deserted the military altogether, such as Agustin Aguayo, an Army medic and “conscientious objector” currently in military prison awaiting a court marshal. According to the German magazine Der Spiegel, more than five soldiers a day went AWOL (absent without leave) last year, and either turned themselves in at Fort Sill, Oklahoma and Fort Knox, Kentucky or were arrested, and discharged without honor. In addition, recently, distinguished soldiers have sought discharge or rejected re-enlistment and generous pensions in order to stop fighting in a war they no longer believe is right.
Kyle spent his last three months in Iraq patrolling his base in the Al Anbar province. Although conditions were tolerable at best-most days were humid and 130 degrees Fahrenheit during the day and freezing at night, Kyle recalled with a shudder-he believes he was more than ready to go to Iraq for seven months.
“You learn more over there,” he says. “My unit was really good. I wanted to go. We waited a year to go. I was ready because I was tired of waiting.”
When asked about his opinion on the press coverage of the war, Kyle shook his head.
“So biased,” he said. “So against the military. It’s unreal. They only show the bad part.”
He claimed the media does not show any of the good parts of the war; the military has actually been making progress, he said. For example, they have built several schools in Iraq, but no one has given them credit for it, he said. He also brought up Blackwater, an incident in which U.S. security guards have been accused of killing 17 Iraqi civilians on September 16 of this year. There was a big controversy concerning the conduct of the private security contractors.
“Blackwater’s doing a great job. Yeah, ok, they killed civilians. The civilians probably did something,” Kyle said. “That’s why people are against the war, because they don’t show all sides,” Kyle said, almost shouting.
Regarding the Haditha massacre of November 19, 2005, Kyle asserted the soldiers probably had a good reason for shooting the two dozen civilians. In that incident, 24 Iraqis were killed, and 15 of them were civilians. Allegedly, the killings were reprisal for the improvised explosive device that took the life of a much loved Lance Corporal, Miguel Terrazas.
“You’re under so much pressure and so much strain,” Kyle said. “Civilians don’t tell you everything. Some people get angry.”
With only two years left in the Marines, Kyle has yet to decide what he will do when his term finishes. If he continues active duty for 20 years he will receive pension, medical and dental care for life. He claimed he has no regrets becoming a Marine.
“It’s something to put on a resume,” he shrugged.
Back at base, Kyle now trains and learns about intelligence, and how to use it to find enemies. When he spoke of discovering “who’s the leader” of the enemy, he sounded excited. He cannot wait to go back to Iraq in May.