FORT WORTH, Texas ― The late-Chris Kyle was a lot of things to a lot of people.
Most Americans recognize the former United States Navy SEAL as a hero—a deserving title that Kyle wasn’t entirely comfortable with.
His fellow servicemen know him as the most lethal sniper in American military history. Iraqi insurgents dubbed him the “Devil of Ramadi.”
Harper Collins, the publisher of his autobiography “American Sniper,” knows him as a New York Times bestselling author of two books before his untimely death on February 2, 2013.
His fellow enlistees knew him as Tex.
However, his family – parents, Wayne and Deby, along with his brother, Jeff (and wife Amy) – remember Chris, who was born in Odessa, Texas, and raised just south of Fort Worth in Midlothian – as a cowboy.
“We felt like the country life was the best way to raise a child,” said Wayne during the Built Ford Tough Series event last weekend in Oklahoma City, “so that’s what we did. We raised them riding horses, taught them to ride at an early age and then they picked it up on their own.”
Jeff added, “We wanted to carry on the family’s legacy of raising cattle and horses.
“We had it in our dreams to go into the military and serve our country, and whenever we decided to get out that was our long-term goal, to bring the families together and buy a big piece of property and start raising cattle and horses again.”
Chris Kyle was killed last year, not far from his Texas home, on Feb. 2.
Chris and Jeff grew up ranching – the Kyle family kept anywhere from 100 to 150 head of cows – and as teenagers began to rodeo.
Both tried their hand at bull riding in their early teens. Chris knew early on he didn’t want to ride bulls and settled on bronc riding and roping, while Jeff rode for six years before giving it up.
The brothers wound up serving their country.
According to his official bio, Chris was assigned to SEAL Team 3, Sniper Element Charlie platoon within the Naval Special Warfare Command.
He served four tours in the second Iraqi conflict and was awarded two Silver Stars, five Bronze Stars with Valor, two Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medals, and one Navy and Marine Corps Commendation.
Iraqi insurgents offered a bounty for his head. He was shot twice, survived multiple helicopter crashes and was involved in six IED attacks.
Upon his honorary discharge, Chris proclaimed, “It’s our duty to serve those who serve us.”
Chris joined in 1999 and served until 2009, while Jeff served from 2000 to 2008.
Wayne recalls his eldest son telling him that when he first went to boot camp the others would sit around at night – after the lights were out – and listen to Chris share cowboy stories.
“Like they say,” said the proud father, “you can take the boy out of the country, but you can’t take that country out of the boy.”
Chris was killed last year, not far from his Texas home, on Feb 2.
With the help of a family friend – Chris Douglas and his wife, Darcy – the Kyle’s have organized the Chris Kyle Memorial Roping and Auction, which will take place Feb. 7-9 at the Circle T Ranch in Hamilton, Texas.
Former bull riders Ross Coleman, who was inducted into the Ring of Honor in 2012, and recently retired Luke Snyder are on the board of directors for the memorial and both will take part.
Four-time Stock Contractor of the Year Jeff Robinson renamed Wagon Wheel in honor of Chris. Devil of Ramadi hasn’t been ridden in eight Built Ford Tough Series outs the past two years, including four times in the first three events this season.
Shorty Gorham, Chris Douglas, Jeff Kyle, Wayne Kyle, Luke Snyder and Ross Coleman pose for a photo during the 2014 Built Ford Tough Series event in Oklahoma City. Photo by Andy Watson / BullStockMedia.com.
“It gets me deep,” said Jeff, with regard to Coleman and Snyder, as well as the PBR donating tickets to the first couple of nights of the upcoming World Finals in October for the auction.
“This organization is all like-minded people just like the military. We all have the same mentality, same mindset to get out there and get it done no matter what the cost is. From day one since the tragedy, just to see no matter where we’re at in the country, just to see the outpouring of support that we get from our fellow Americans to stand up and show their support for my brother and to our family, it goes without saying, it’s unbelievable.”
Wayne added, “It touches our heart tremendously. Speaking for my wife and I, we’re very thankful for the PBR. We’ve always been big fans of the PBR, but to be part of it in this manor is just amazing. … To come to an event like this means a lot to us and to see all the people that recognize Chris for what he accomplished and what he stood for. Not just because I’m his father, but he was a true American hero and he hated that. He hated that label. He said the heroes are the ones that are still over there fighting. He said the heroes are the ones that had gone before him.”
In the four years after he served, Chris had dedicated his life to giving back.
He was President of Craft International until his death. Craft is a tactical training company for the U.S. military and law enforcement communities. He also volunteered much of his time to Base Camp 40: Warriors in the Wild, which according to its website honors military veterans with outdoor hunting adventures throughout the country.
Wayne recalled his son telling him that BC40 is “better therapy than you could get sitting in any doctor’s office.”
The family has chosen to honor their son in this way because they believe it’s what he would have been doing had he still been alive.
As important is the fact that 100 percent of the proceeds from the memorial go to BC40, 100 percent of that money will go back to veterans.
“When Chris was killed – his brother, his mom and I – it became our goal to carry on Chris’ legacy,” Wayne said.
“We don’t want anything for ourselves,” Jeff said. “We want to give back to the guys and girls that have been over there and done that. We want to show our support and bring everybody in on it.”
Despite the loss of a loved one – a man who to them was a son, brother, husband and father – the Kyle family has remained stoic and proud.
He may have been so many things to so many people, but to himself he was “just a normal guy.”
Understandably, his death has made the past year difficult.
“It’s been an emotional time,” Wayne shared. “This past year has been disastrous for us. We meet a lot of people and a lot of times it’s bitter sweet because they may have known Chris and they’ll tell us stories about him. That’s good. It warms our heart, but then that brings up the memories and we miss him—that void that’s there. We’re thankful that we still have Jeff and his family. Yeah, it’s good to be a part of this. If Chris was still here today, that’s what he would be doing. If somebody would have approached him about doing an event like that, oh, he would have jumped at the chance.
“And he’d have been right out there in the middle of it — roping, drinking beer, whatever.”
Follow Keith Ryan Cartwright on Twitter @PBR_KRC.
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