Unlike Chris Kyle, Here is an American Sniper We Can Call ‘Hero’

by Dennis Trainor, Jr. 
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Listening to Garett Reppenhagen describe how he felt the first time he shot someone is like listening to an addict talk about their first time injecting heroin. “I leveled my M-4, put him in my iron sights, and took three shots. One of them hit him center mass and he went down in the middle of the road. I had this instant sense of satisfaction, overwhelming excitement and pride. It was really kind of an ecstatic feeling that I had.”

I had just seen the film American Sniper, the revisionist history popcorn propaganda piece of myth making and nationalistic war porn being sold to us by Bradley Cooper, Clint Eastwood, and screenwriter Jason Hall an apolitical character study.  I wanted to talk with an actual American Sniper, and Garett was generous enough to pick up the phone.

Bradley Cooper has said that he "Doesn't want 'American Sniper' to be used in political conversation"
Bradley Cooper has said that he “Doesn’t want ‘American Sniper’ to be used in political conversation”

Garett has a lot in common with Chris Kyle. Both entered the military at a older age, both spent endless hours on rooftops, in windows or trash piles in Iraq “doing their job”, both were in Iraq in 2004 hunting al-Qaeda leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and both spent their time after active duty trying to help veterans.

The similarities end there.

I’ll admit, listening to Garett talk about his first kill, taking place when he was ambushed and life presented him a clear choice: kill or be killed, I’m a touch envious.  Life rarely offers us such moments of clarity. As haunted as Garett and others who struggle with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) are because of moments like this one, Garett was describing a moment so simple and so heightened because of that simplicity.


“I was training for three years to be in the moment to do that, and I did it,” Garett tells me. “It was really an ecstatic feeling that I had. I remember looking at the other guys, seeing if they saw it, because I wanted somebody else to witness it.”

American Sniper Has Us All In Iron Sights

In 2004, while Garett was in that life or death firefight, the mundane questions life presented me with could easily throw me into existential despair or paralysis.  What should we do for dinner?  Where to go on summer vacation? Boxers or briefs? This paralysis is a common side effect of privilege: we get to sweat the small stuff when the big stuff is never in doubt. When faced with kill or be killed moment, one answers the former, or one is dead. It does not get any clearer than that. I fear that if I found myself in Garret’s 2004 shoes, I would have soiled my boxers and my briefs.

The only time Chris Kyle soiled himself was on purpose. He would not leave his position to answer natures call so he just kept his rifle trained and went to the bathroom in his pants. Such was his commitment to the God and Country. In a micro sense, it served him well. In a macro sense, however, our invasion and occupation of Iraq was not a “kill them or they will kill us” scenario. History has born that fact out, and that lack of context makes the film American Sniper a dangerous one.

Dangerous because kids will sign up for the military because of this movie. Dangerous because our leaders have plans for those kids. Some will kill. Some will be killed. Or worse. There is no narrative existing outside the strict confines of the American Sniper iron sights that allows for the war on terror to be over. It’s like a bad infinity, a broken record looping over and over:  attack, blowback, and attack. Repeat.

Clint Eastwood’s American Sniper has us all in the iron sights.

Another Movie Is Possible

Imagine the cultural shift that needs to take place for screenwriters to write, studios to green light, and A-list Hollywood actors to portray an American hero who says something like this in a blockbuster movie:

“You feel like there is this debt that you build for every life that you take,” Garett tells me. “You feel like you owe the world something because you left it without this other person that could have done something amazing. I think about all of these soldiers coming out of the U.S. military and helping them get jobs and education and hearing about what they aspire to do and be in the world. And I wonder about all of the Iraqis, Syrians, Albanians and others that we killed in that country and what they aspired to be.”

Garett wonders about the mothers of those we killed in Iraq. What aspirations were dashed when an occupying force killed their children, for whom they invested so much of their lives caretaking?

He did not keep track of his kills and hates that I ask him for a number.

“I wasn’t keeping track and often times there was no confirmation. I feel it didn’t make me a better soldier and certainly doesn’t make me more of a man. If Chris Kyle got 160 confirmed kills, I joke and say that I missed 160 times. I wish that was true. We are talking about human beings and I hate quantifying that. Each life is so precious. We destroy that every time. One was too many, the truth is unspeakable.”

A former president of Iraq Veterans Against the War, Garett now serves as the Rocky Mountain West Coordinator of the Vet Voice Foundation
A former president of Iraq Veterans Against the War, Garett now serves as the Rocky Mountain West Coordinator of the Vet
Voice Foundation

Garett came home and began speaking out. He still does, in fact.

“I do anti-war talks in high schools and colleges. I stopped telling war stories at these events because no matter how bad and awful it sounds, you can still see the look in kids eyes that say ‘that is the right of passage, that is how I become a man. I have to go there and live through that horrible shit to know that I am an adult.’”

Reppenhagen is certain there will be young kids who join the military because of the movie American Sniper. Life, however, is never as neat as Hollywood.

Take Garett’s first kill, the one he described as giving him a feeling of ecstasy. The feeling did not last long. His target was not dead.

“I remember looking back and he was down in the middle of the road arching his body, spinning on his back and screaming and pulling on his stomach as if I shot him with an arrow and he was trying to pull it out. All the sense of satisfaction just washed away and this horror filled it – this sadness, anger and frustration. I was mad at him that he just didn’t die. I ended up putting another three rounds down and he finally stopped moving. That was the first time I took another life.”

There is a long pause on the other end of my phone.

“He looked like he could have been my father. Who knows why he was out there fighting. A lot of people were fighting us because they did not want to be occupied or because they had family members who were hurt or killed and they wanted to get some sort of vengeance. By the end of my tour, it was really hard to justify killing them. We should not have been there in the first place.”

Bradley Cooper and Clint Eastwood: Ignorant or Dangerous? 

While in Iraq, Garett was told by an army chaplain that a stronger belief in God would alleviate of the guilt he was feeling. God was on America’s side, and Garett was fighting for God and Country. Get over it soldier.

Once home, he sought treatment for his PTSD from a VA hospital and heard the same message delivered in a different way.

“I was taken aside more than once at the VA (during group therapy) and told that the VA is not a platform to express my political views. My recovery (from PTSD) hinged on the fact that I felt guilt and shame over committing atrocities against an occupied country. We went over there and brutalized and oppressed, and that is part of my psychological and moral injuries. If I can’t talk about it at the VA, then the VA can’t help me.”

Got that?

Garett’s views are ‘political’, but the worldview of Chris Kyle as brought to life in the film American Sniper is not.  It may be true that it is good for box office for the creators of American Sniper to pretend that their movie is not a political one, but if Cooper and Eastwood actually believe that, any narrative not draped in yellow ribbons and billowing red white and blue flags cannot penetrate the cloak of white imperial privilege they have pulled over their heads.

Which is unfortunate, and not just for those of use who are insulted by a movie that so ignores important historical context as to cross the line from art to propaganda. It robs movie lovers of a better movie. Allowing such complexities into the narrative, or even framing the context of Kyle’s time in Iraq truthfully, would have made it a stronger story.

One should also consider the possibility that just like Chris Kyle, Eastwood and Cooper are disgusting monsters.

Just as in Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein, we are living through a moment in time where a perverse experiment has gone wrong and led to the creation of an out of control monster. In this case, the monster itself is the blowback inducing, homicidal bull in cultural, religious and geopolitical china shops that has been U.S. foreign policy for at least the past 75 years. That concept, personified, is the myth of Chris Kyle that is breaking box office records and marching towards the Oscars with all of the pomp, precision, and sense of a rightful place at the head of the line displayed by the Marine Corps Marching Band at the Rose Bowl Parade.

In addition to the outright lies (weapons of mass destruction, a connection between Iraq and 9/11, etc.) the main ingredient of this Frankensteinian nightmare is the belief in American Exceptionalism: the wind beneath the wings of the 19th century concept of Manifest Destiny. The offspring of that concept, we can call it Manifest Destiny’s Child, is a privileged, spoiled, brutal bully bull on the world stage.

That Chris Kyle, nurtured as he was by the insidious worldview of Manifest Destiny’s child, turned out the way he did makes him common.

That someone like Garett Reppenhagen emerged from this experiment honestly facing down his own demons and the demons of his country makes him a hero worthy of a major motion picture in his own right.

Creative Commons License
This work by Dennis Trainor, Jr. is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.


  1. Who cares what Russell Brand thinks, and it’s amazing how a movie can make the Liberals go nuts. It’s DANGEROUS to the lefties because it’s true.

  2. Though I never owned a firearm, just BB and pellet guns as a kid, I played army with my little buddies to save the world. I loved Clint’s spaghetti westerns. In the 90s I worked at a mental health facility where I had a conversation about guns. My concern at the time was that my “middle class values” would cause me to hesitate pulling the trigger to save my life which would get me popped. I have complete and total disdain for the democrat-republican wars abroad and the wars against minorities within our own borders. For me, Garett is truly a hero of conscience. Thank you Dennis. Thank you Garett.

    1. Thanks Joseph. It is amazing to see how far some ppl will go to protect the lies that govern their lives, and the homicidal- Imperial foreign policy of the United States.

    1. Propaganda? Tell me Hero: Why were we in Iraq? The film #AmericanSniper links 9/11 to the Iraq war, and the character Chris Kyle says we are fighting in Iraq so “they” don’t come to the U.S. Those are lies. Those are the propaganda.

      1. I was in the Army and Reserves 1995-2005….9/11 was something that everyone remembers. It signaled we were now a wartime Military, and every soldier wondered if they were going to war. There is no mistaking that after 9/11 things were different, and everything was seen through this prism. While Saddam had nothing to do with 9/11, the Iraq war would not have happened if 9/11 didn’t happen. Politics don’t mean shit in Combat, the guy beside you does! The movie doesn’t say that Iraq caused 9/11…It shows one man’s experience.

  3. Hate to tell you this but Garett Rappenhagen wasn’t a sniper, He was a Designated Marksman. And Dennis Trainor is just another whiny lil Prog-Lib hack.

  4. 1/13/15 Garett Reppenhagen, OIF Veteran US Army 1st Infantry — “While (I was) deployed as a sniper in the US Army 1st Infantry Division in the Diyala River Valley in Iraq I authored a mil-blog with a group of soldiers that started to turn against the mission. The blog was called “Fight to Survive” or “FTS”.  It was a vent to rant about our distaste for the brutality and oppression we were (a) part of. The blog highlighted the absurdity of modern warfare and our ongoing attempts to live through a year in the bloodiest times of the US occupation of Iraq. It was about making it through while holding on to some semblance of humanity while “Fucking The System” with the entire military chain of command opposing us…Behind the cowboy up, behind the American flag, behind the GI Joe is the question looming. If given voice the fragile shroud of sanity they have left might wash away and it will strip everything except the one thing left, the question why. Why did I lose my limb? Why did I lose my faith? Why did I lose my friends? Why did I lose my innocence? Why  did I lose my soul? http://www.ivaw.org/blog/why

  5. You’ve been duped. Mr. Reppenhagen was a scout, but he was never a sniper. He was kicked out of the Army on a General Discharge and ever since he has been making a living by bouncing around between ‘veteran’ organizations and lying about his service.

  6. my question is for the author. Killing is killing. Both men killed. PERIOD. You portray one as a hero because of his lamenting of the conditions of war. You persecute the other as representative of all that you see wrong with Americas exceptionalism. The other saw it as doing a job nothing more nothing less. Your relieving one of guilt due to his perspective and incriminating another for executing the exact same task. Have you soothed your conscience yet? Your white guilt and self loathing is forefront. You hate your country and those in it who have a different view than your own. You equate American Exceptionalism only to the military and war. Your failure to see the many other things that create exceptionalism about America is predictable. I am fully aware of the deceit of our Government on ALL levels including the use of the military for political ends. But your shoot and discredit the messenger (aka the sniper or military man) is misguided and flawed. But its the only way for an America hating, self loathing product of academia’s indoctrination machine to see the world. Please don’t equate your sense of “white privilege” to those around you. The big decision between boxers and briefs and whether or not to lower the temperature in the living room is your own burden to bare. That isn’t “white privilege” my friend ..its just plain old privilege that’s been around for thousands of years.

  7. Hello Dennis,

    I came upon your “Dear White People” video yesterday, then watched your interview with David DeGraw, and wanted to just send April Fool’s Day high fives for your sassy anti-imperial mischief-making.

    Brooklyn, NY

  8. Reblogged this on Catskill bob's Blogosphere and commented:
    To me, Kyle, ‘American Sniper’ represents everything that s wrong with America… uncontrolled Aggressiveness and militarism.. “He did not keep track of his kills and hates that I ask him for a number.

    “I wasn’t keeping track and often times there was no confirmation. I feel it didn’t make me a better soldier and certainly doesn’t make me more of a man. If Chris Kyle got 160 confirmed kills, I joke and say that I missed 160 times. I wish that was true. We are talking about human beings and I hate quantifying that. Each life is so precious. We destroy that every time. One was too many, the truth is unspeakable.”

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