Since the publication of American Sniper, Kyle’s exploits in Iraq during the height of the war have taken on almost mythic proportions and many of his fellow soldiers regard his actions during his four deployments in Iraq as heroic. During the November 2004 American siege of Fallujah, for example, Kyle saved an injured Marine’s life by dragging him to safety while taking and returning fire down an alleyway.
Kyle also wrote in his book that he had 160 “confirmed kills” as a sniper. Service members in battle largely self-report the number of enemy combatants they kill.
“SEALs are silent warriors, and I’m a SEAL down to my soul,” Kyle wrote inAmerican Sniper. “If you want to check me out, ask a SEAL.”
Two members of the SEAL community said that while Kyle’s actions under fire were commendable, he tarnished his accomplishments through misrepresentation.
“It takes away from the legitimate heroism he showed,” said a retired SEAL who was deployed to Iraq when Kyle was also deployed there.
The 2004 incident resulted in a Bronze Star with Valor, one of three that Kyle was awarded. That action was recommended by his commanding officers for a Silver Star, but it was denied by the secretary of the Navy at the time. Kyle was aware that the Silver Star was denied, according to his autobiography, and did not count it among the two Silver Stars he claimed to receive. He did not say in the book what either of those Silver Stars were for.
Retired Army Lt. Col. Robert Bateman, a military historian, said that public reports of stolen valor became more common in the decade after the Vietnam War. Bateman also said it was inexcusable that Kyle, or any other veteran, would inflate his record, even if the veteran, like Kyle, had demonstrated clear heroism during his service.
Résumé inflation may be less of a scandal for civilians, Bateman said, but for those in the military “some elements are paid in blood.”
A retired SEAL officer said several of Kyle’s commanding officers were aware that he had misrepresented how many decorations he had collected. The retired officer attended the ceremony for Kyle’s single Silver Star, which was awarded to him for a 2006 deployment in Ramadi, Iraq. “During 32 sniper overwatch missions,” the citation reads, “he personally accounted for 91 confirmed enemy fighters killed.”
When asked if he had been aware of Kyle’s inaccurate accounting of his awards, Jocko Willink, one of Kyle’s former commanding officers, said, “Chris Kyle, like many of the SEALs, soldiers, and Marines I had the honor to serve with, deserve much more than whatever ribbons and medals they received.”
Another former commanding officer, Leif Babin, declined to comment. Willink and Babin co-authored a book, Extreme Ownership, which details their time commanding SEALs in Iraq. It includes a section about Kyle’s prowess as a sniper, but does not tally his medals.
This is not the first time that Kyle has been accused of misrepresentation. In 2014, just over a year after Kyle’s death, a Minnesota jury found that he had lied in American Sniper and defamed former Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura by claiming to have punched Ventura out at a bar in Coronado, California. The jury awarded Ventura, who served in a precursor unit to the Navy SEALs during the Vietnam War, $1.8 million in damages and ordered Kyle’s widow, Taya Kyle, to pay. (Taya Kyle is appealing the ruling.)
When contacted by The Intercept, Taya Kyle, through a representative, declined to comment about her husband’s service record.
The former SEAL officer who attended Kyle’s Silver Star ceremony said it was a poorly kept secret in the naval special operations community that Kyle embellished his record. “The SEAL leadership was aware of the embellishment, but didn’t want to correct the record because Kyle’s celebrity status reflected well on the command.”
“Everybody went on a pilgrimage to his funeral at Cowboys Stadium,” the ex-SEAL said, “knowing full well his claims weren’t true.”
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