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Sunday, February 1, 2015

American Sniper - A Review (a Veteran's perspective)

Finally, after patiently waiting for two weeks after the national release in theaters, I went to a cozy theater last night and watched Bradley Cooper portray Navy SEAL, the late Chris Kyle, in the long, personally anticipated movie, American Sniper.  While watching the movie I knew I had to, at some point, add my two cents on the Academy Award nominated film.  I mean, if Michael Moore, Seth Rogen, and some NBC reporter named Ayman Mohyeldin can share their opinion, well, I'm a Veteran, still a National Guard soldier, I should be able to share my feelings on it too...


Uh, you are damn straight.  I woke up at precisely 0444 hours this morning, I figured it was for one of two reasons.  My desire to put my thoughts on this film down electronically (been a year since my last post) or the fact I was a multi-million dollar winner of the powerball jackpot.  After checking my numbers, I realized it was not the latter, so I sluggishly made my way to my computer.  I'll comment on the aforementioned trio of douchebags later, but considering I have been to Iraq, ok, ok, I wasn't a Navy SEAL, or a special operator, I was simply the Noncommissioned Officer in Charge (NCOIC) of a quaint little Troop Medical Clinic (TMC) along MSR Tampa between Talil Air Base (in southern Iraq) and Baghdad.  And to boot, I was a Utah Army National Guardsmen, my active component Army days ended in 2001, before the September 11th attacks, but that is what propelled me back into service, albeit part time.  I'm still here, after 18 long years, serving, albeit, still on a part time basis.  As I was saying, I was in Iraq, although Chris Kyle's mission was drastically different than mine, I served in the role my country, state, and unit requested of me, no different than Chris Kyle.  I also wrote and published a book, yes, again, no where near the notoriety or sales of Kyle's book, but that wasn't the goal.  The goal was trying to reach closure and paint a picture of sacrifice on the grand scheme, as the movie, and book Kyle wrote describes, that sacrifice extends out beyond the scope of the individual, team, or unit of service members.  The whole military community feels the long lasting effects of service experienced over these long lasting conflicts.  The brunt of the weight affecting the families at home during deployments. 

First thing I will admit, I scrutinize war movies, especially from this generation of conflict, with a heavy hand.  I can't help it, every detail down to the uniform worn, I'm anal about, but with this movie, luckily, the majority of players were Navy and Marines, so they could have had pink unicorns sewn on their collar for rank and I would have been completely ignorant, well, not completely, but I wasn't as in tune as  I would have been with an Army focused movie.  However, that is an internal flaw, no need to elaborate, this movie wasn't necessarily made to be completely appealing to the service member, although it has been.  The general public generates the revenue, and the general public has made the movie a box office success, beyond what I think many expected. 

As for the movie's overall message, exploring the transition from a peace keeping force, to a war hardened force, on the individual level, I thought it was extremely well done.  Bradley Cooper, did his work, he brought Chris Kyle to life on the big screen, but only told a small portion of the overall story.  However, it was sufficient, and made me reflect of my deployment in 2005-2006, and how it changed me, although I denied it for a long time afterward, when my wife (we are now separated and she is back in Utah) kept telling me I was different.  I'm under the firm belief that all service members returning from deployment to a combat zone, return changed, I don't think anyone can be excluded.  Now, there will be many that deny change, but I think those individuals are lying to themselves, as many of us do after retuning home.  Many lie for years and years afterwards, unfortunately at times it leads to their demise, as the mission still plays out in their fragile minds, and eventually drives them to the darkest corners of life, feeling alone, helpless, and unable to cope within the free society for which they fought, bled, and sacrificed.  I still see some of these guys on a monthly basis, as a medical officer in the Pennsylvania Army National Guard, teetering on the fence, between this life they reside in and struggle to live for, and the reflection of a deployment past, and the pathway into the abyss.  It breaks my heart, because not everyone can be helped, or wants help, nor can everyone be saved.  If anyone tells you that, again, a liar.  I speak from personal experience, I won't elaborate further, but my family understands.  These individuals answer the questions appropriately, denying ideations of suicide or homicide, but this is where we need to focus more attention, whether they want help or not, we need to give them the opportunity to escape falling into the abyss.  If only we could save them all, after what they have been through, so this American way of life can continue to thrive, without the fear of your family being blown to pieces at the mall. 

That was another point expressed in the movie, fighting these wars on the enemy's turf, keeping the evil from slowly creeping through the cracks in our domestic security blanket.  I completely agree, keep the bloodshed away from American soil, there are plenty willing to fight anywhere in this world to preserve the freedom that so many take for granted, the problem is, when they do fight, and die, there is little more than a number tally on the news at the end of the day.  That is why Chris Kyle did what he tried to do, keep the American death tally as low as he could, but he is only one man.  Well, one Legend, the "true" Legend.  Many will argue that his tally of kills was as reprehensible as the American casualty count, but then they fail to completely understand what is at stake in this war on terror.  And for any American to be that misunderstood on the role this nation plays on a global scale, and the direction this world needs to head in order to achieve peace, well, that is completely baffling. 

The LEGEND portrayed
I can't listen the arguments about Americans being in this country, and that country, and how we are therefore creating the hatred that tries to unleash evil on us at every turn.  How we are creating generations of radical Islamists by our foreign policy, and trying to police the world of it's problems. Because obviously, if we stop what we are doing, the sun will rise in the east tomorrow and peace will have enveloped the world, radical Muslims will not want to exterminate the Jews, or destroy the western world.   And then I wouldn't have to scrutinize the military uniforms in movies and the pink unicorn patches sewn on collars for rank, because those unicorns will be galloping up and down through Babylon province and a teleportation rainbow will extend from the Persian Gulf to the Gulf of Mexico.  Yeah, exactly.  Not!  Gonna!  Happen!  Ever!

So, take it to the enemy, the enemy in this era is Islamic extremism, not the Islamic faith, and no longer communist rule, or the freaking Nazi party.  Why?  Why in the past, have we purposefully, relentlessly, without mercy completely annihilated our enemy, but now, we inflict a non-lethal wound and say we are victorious?  Well, you see, the mentality of Chris Kyle, was simply to do anything and everything to help his military family, he died doing just that, trying to help one of those same individuals, slipping into the abyss, I spoke briefly about earlier.  Tragic, yet from his story, his book, this movie, the American public can gain a better understanding of the type of individual it takes to truly serve this country.  If I had a dime for every time I heard an individual without military experience say they could have served, or been a special operator, or talk nonsense, I'd be a rich man.  Fact of the matter is, the only way to prove you can do something, is to do it, so stop talking smack, and do it if you think you can.  Millions of Americans didn't make excuses why they couldn't serve, they volunteered, persevered, and now wear the distinct label of American Veteran. 

The LEGEND actual
That being said, I don't want to seem like a prude, I fully feel my service has been compensated for, greatly, even now as I continue to serve.  I don't think I am entitled, or special, or deserve any more thanks than the next guy.  Maybe when I'm seventy years old I'll feel different, but now, while I still can, I'll serve, and while I do that, preserve the memories of those like Chris Kyle, and my grandfather, Donald G. Traugh, who was a prisoner of war (POW) during world war II.  Individuals who deserve to be held in the highest regard as patriots, and heroes. 

Who knows, I was in Iraq for nearly all of 2006, actions taken by Chris Kyle, and those like him, may have reverberated as far south as Convoy Support Center Scania where I was.  Maybe indirectly saving my life, or that of my soldiers.  Thankfully, he did what he did, and there is no need to put much thought into that possibility.

A hero's wake

So as far as the movie goes, if I was a teacher grading the movie like a paper, I would give it an "A-."  Well, you see, I'm not a teacher, but I have graded many performances of subordinates in the Army, and I never give anyone all perfect marks.  Might have gotten an "A" if not for the fake baby.  But Cooper and Miller's performances were what mattered most in this movie and I would give them bot an "A."  They did a great job portraying the struggle we as humans go through emotionally when directly or indirectly serving this great nation.

Okay, finally, back to the aforementioned douchebags...

Those three guys, uh, what were their names?  Oh yeah, not wasting any more cerebral capacity bringing up their tasteless remarks.  You see, unless you have walked a mile in combat boots (and by walking a mile, I mean at least a 10 mile forced road march in full battle rattle with at least 50 pounds in your ruck sack, carrying your M16 A2 rifle - or I guess, M4 rifle), your opinion matters none to me, nor should it matter to anyone else.

God Bless America!

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