After his arm healed, Kyle went to a military recruiting office, interested in joining the U.S. Marine Corps special operations. A U.S. Navy recruiter convinced him to try, instead, for the SEALs. Initially, Kyle was rejected because of the pins in his arm, but he eventually received an invitation to the 24-week Basic Underwater Demolition SEAL school (BUDS), which he joined in 1999.
Assigned to SEAL Team 3, sniper element, platoon “Charlie” (later “Cadillac”), within the Naval Special Warfare Command, and with four tours of duty, Kyle served in many major battles of the Iraq War. His first long-range kill shot was taken during the initial invasion when he shot a woman approaching a group of Marines while carrying a hand grenade. CNN reported that the woman was cradling a toddler in her other hand. As ordered, Kyle opened fire, killing the woman before she could attack. He later stated, “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.”
Because of his track record as a marksman during his deployment to Ramadi, the insurgents named Kyle Shaitan Ar-Ramadi (English: “The Devil of Ramadi”), and put a $21,000 bounty on his head that was later increased to $80,000. They posted signs highlighting the cross on his arm as a means of identifying him.
In his book, American Sniper, Kyle describes his longest successful shot: in 2008, outside Sadr City, he killed an insurgent sniper aiming at other members of the US military with “a straight-up luck shot” from his McMillan Tac-338 sniper rifle from about 2,100 yards (1,920 m) away.
Kyle became known as “The Legend” among the general infantry and Marines he was tasked to protect. The nickname originated among Kyle’s fellow SEAL’s following his taking of a sabbatical to train other snipers in Fallujah, and he was sometimes called “The Myth”. During four tours of duty in the Iraq War, he was shot twice and survived six separate IED detonations.
Career as a military sniper
Kyle is arguably one of the United States military’s most effective snipers with a large number of confirmed and unconfirmed kills. To be counted as confirmed, “They basically had to see the person fall and be clearly dead”, according to Jim DeFelice, one of the coauthors of Kyle’s autobiography. Kyle’s shooter’s statements (shooter’s statements are filled out by every sniper after a mission) were reported to higher command, who kept them in case any shootings were contested as outside the rules of engagement (ROE). The publisher HarperCollins states: “The Pentagon has officially confirmed more than 150 of Kyle’s kills (the previous American record was 109), but it has declined to verify the astonishing total number for this book.” In his autobiography, Kyle wrote:
“The Navy credits me with more kills as a sniper than any other American service member, past or present. I guess that’s true. They go back and forth on what the number is. One week, it’s 160 (the ‘official’ number as of this writing, for what that’s worth), then it’s way higher, then it’s somewhere in between. If you want a number, ask the Navy—you may even get the truth if you catch them on the right day.”
On July 8, 2016, the U.S. Navy corrected Kyle’s DD Form 214 regarding some decorations listed on his original discharge document. The original discharge papers issued to him upon leaving the service (a DD-214) tally with his account given in his autobiography, of two Silver Stars and five Bronze Stars with valor. The Navy revised it to one Silver Star and four Bronze Stars with valor. The Navy said “Kyle would have played no role in the production of his personnel files other than signing the DD-214 upon his discharge” and “[a]fter thoroughly reviewing all available records, the Navy determined an error was made” and “issued a corrected copy of the DD214, which accurately reflects Kyle’s years of honorable and extraordinary service.”