Monday, January 19, 2015

The Ultimate Story of Teamwork: American Sniper

Bradley Cooper never got to meet Chris Kyle but
they did talk on the phone once. He says he never
thought it would be the last time he talked to him
Last night I saw "American Sniper" a film directed by Clint Eastwood and nominated for six Academy Awards, including Best Picture. I am walking around today a little shell shocked. Is it possible to have PTSD from a movie? Indeed, the (positive) review by David Denby of The New Yorker resonates with me. He said it is  "Both a devastating war movie and a devastating antiwar movie, a subdued celebration of a warrior's skill and a sorrowful lament over his alienation and misery." It's worth learning about the life of Chris Kyle and honoring his legacy from this movie or his autobiography.

In my attempt to process what I learned and what I saw, I'd like to reflect on three ideas or themes that relate to Sports and Spirituality. With this posting and tribute to Chris Kyle, I hope you will pray for our veterans, their families, and for peace in our world. 

1. The notion of teamwork.
Chris Kyle was a member of the Navy SEALs (Sea, Air and Land) Team. Even though he is known as "the Legend" the movie demonstrates his role as a member of a much larger team. I gained a better insight into the varied roles of each SEAL team member. While a sharp shooter may have "sex appeal"—I stood in awe of the talents and abilities of many others. 

I once read that the only people who really understand Navy SEALs are other Navy SEALs. The closest of teammates can understand this sentiment. However, this story draws us in to a team that is fighting for something much larger than themselves. It doesn't get much more real than men and women who are literally putting their lives on the line to defend and protect freedom. Their raison d'ĂȘtre does much more than bring them together as teammates. It makes them a "band of brothers." It shapes their modus operandum. That M.O. is fascinating to me. 
It was fascinating to me that whenever Kyle was in sniper mode, he took his helmet off and wore his ball cap backwards...
Of critical importance to that M.O. is that a they never leave a fellow SEAL alone. Never. Not to injury, death, or the dire, impending and real need to escape getting killed. And when death comes, and it does, a SEAL team member returns with the body in its casket to the United States. 

"American Sniper" reveals what we already know—the toll of losing a "teammate" weighs heavily on these men. In one scene, a veteran approaches Kyle in a store and thanks him for saving his life. Kyle asked him if he "lost some friends." He needs to know because it fuels him to worker that much harder for the cause.

"American Sniper" features Chris Kyle's four tours of duty in Iraq; it is impossible not to feel the tension and his blood pressure rising with each one. His devotion to his work—his squadron is so strong, that it presents a challenge to his marriage and his family. Sometimes, teams do that. They are not totally altruistic in and of themselves. As Ron Rolheiser said, "every choice is 1,000 renunciations." (The Holy Longing) The choice to serve the Navy SEALs isn't without a cost. But it becomes his calling; one he must pursue for as long as he is able. When he finally realizes that he must return home, Kyle struggles with the notion that "he quit." That sentiment fuels his desire to work with other veterans, an effort that ultimately led to his tragic and untimely death. Which leads to my thoughts on...

2. His memorial service.
The only real footage "American Sniper" includes is of the Memorial Service that was held at Cowboy Stadium in Arlington, Texas. Kyle's coffin was draped in the American flag and placed over the star. He was a devout Christian, but this service did not take place in a church. Maybe one for close family and friends did, but this larger service allowed over 7,000 people to pay their respects and share their grief. Where people come together to honor a person's life is not what it important, it's that they do. 
This is not something to ever take for granted. Going to a funeral is not easy; they can be exhausting and emotionally draining. But I always remind myself when I face the temptation to stay home or do something different What if no one came? I truly believe that pain shared is pain divided. And to see the he outpouring of patriotism, gratitude, love and respect by fellow veterans and ordinary Americans who lined the freeways as his coffin traveled to Arlington cemetery at our Nation's capital nearly leaves you speechless. It's incredible.

3. Shooting as an Olympic Sport.
Chris Kyle is
credited with the most confirmed kills (160) in American military history (allegedly he had 255). As "American Sniper" unfolds, the bounty on Chris Kyle increases. So does his desire to take down the expert insurgent sniper "Mustafa." The enemy is known as an Olympic gold medalist, not from Iraq, but Syria. While watching, I asked myself Is shooting really an Olympic sport?" I am here to tell you it is; Men's shooting is includes nine different competitions and women's shooting has six. 

Would Chris Kyle have been an Olympic gold medalist? If you have seen the movie, you can answer this question. His success was contingent on an important distinction.

In conclusion, "American Sniper" raised a whole lot of questions for me. I walked around today thinking of just how much different my job day to day living is incredibly different from those who serve in the armed forces. I believe it is a calling, one that men and women must answer. But too often, it is at a great price. The world isn't an easy place, but it humbles me to know there are people like Chris Kyle who in their hearts want to share their gifts and talents to make it better for me and for his "teammates." 

I am haunted by his words; "I'm willing to meet my Creator and answer for every shot that I took. The thing that...haunts me are all the guys that I couldn't save."

Chris Kyle, you have saved more than you will ever know.

Photo Credits
Sniper Mode

Prayers for the Family

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