Thursday, February 28, 2013

On Opposite Paths

                                                                Chris Kyle

                                                  Eddie Ray Routh with his mother

The country was greatly saddened by the senseless shooting of Navy Seal sniper Kris Kyle and his friend Chad Littlefield.  Even more saddening is the shooter was a Marine veteran, Eddie Ray Routh.  All three were native Texans, all three served in the military.  One would become a celebrated hero, the other would struggle with the dark grasp of post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD. 

Born in Odessa, Chris Kyle, like many Texas boys, owned a gun and learned to hunt at a young age.   A stint in professional rodeo ended when he shattered his arm after being thrown from a bucking horse.  Despite his damaged arm, Kyle joined the Navy Seals.  From there he trained and served as a sniper during Operation Iraqi Freedom. 

During the course of the war, Kyle perfected his marksmanship on Iraqi insurgents, racking up an incredible tally of 160 confirmed kills.  The deadliest sniper in U.S. history shot one insurgent at the astounding range of 2,100 yards.  His success led to a bounty of $80,000 being placed on his head and a newly bestowed moniker, "The Devil of Ramadi."

Kyle retired in 2009 after receiving 2 Silver Stars and 5 Bronze Stars.  Now living in Midlothian, just outside of Dallas, he started Craft International to help train military and law enforcement personnel.  Kyle also authored the bestseller, "American Sniper," a book that chronicled his service in the SEALs.  Despite his busy schedule, he found time to start a controversial program to assist veterans suffering from PTSD.  The program offered therapy through target shooting.  One of the veterans was a very disturbed fellow Texan named Eddie Ray Routh.

Unlike Kyle, Routh's postwar experience was a series of mental wards, jail cells and frantic 911 calls.  Recent pictures and records suggest a man at times devoid of feeling with a terrifying, explosive inner rage.  The rage would surface at a remote target range in Erath County.  On February 2, 2013, the bodies of Kyle and Littlefield were found at the Rough Creek Lodge shooting range; both had been shot with a semi-automatic handgun.  While driving Kyle's stolen pickup, Routh was pursued and arrested in Lancaster, Texas.  He is now in the Erath County Jail awaiting trial.

Kyle's funeral procession may have been the longest in U.S. history and certainly the longest in Texas history.  He left a wife and two children.  As befitting all Texas heroes, he was buried at the Texas State Cemetery in Austin.  His exploits  will be studied by military historians for decades to come.  Routh's exploits will be studied by prison psychiatrists and a public wondering why.

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