The Real-Life Wives of ‘American Sniper(s)’

It was a Friday night like any other at the local movie theater. The difference was that Kevin and I had extra motivation to arrive early because the movie was a true military story with ties to people we knew. And good thing we arrived early, because the seats were filled nearly 30 minutes before the movie began. We ended up in the front section looking straight up at the screen, but neither of us complained. At least we got seats!

For 2 hours, neither of us moved as the true story of Chris Kyle mesmerized the completely packed theater. As the movie progressed, Kyle’s real-life heroics and difficulties made for one of the most compelling combat movies I’ve ever seen. Even more importantly, the movie did a great job of depicting the aftermath his wife and family felt after his 4 deployments as Kyle bravely battled the effects of PTSD. As the movie concluded on the tragic note of Kyle’s death, I remember feeling absolutely numb as the credits began to roll by. As a fellow military member and spouse, I thought I would have experienced tears, or anger, or sadness. But instead I just sat there in silence….paralyzed and unable to coherently think or feel anything. What was even more shocking was the rest of the theater sat quiet and motionless as well. It was something I had never witnessed before; complete and utter silence in a room packed with people. And I can guarantee that it was a feeling that anyone who attended the movie will never forget.

This room full of silent movie-goers had just gotten a taste of the lessons many military members and families know all too well; teamwork, patriotism, selflessness, and sacrifice. One might argue military members and Navy SEALs know these hardships accompany a chosen life of combat on the front lines. But what ‘American Sniper’ truly brought to life was the reality that military families don’t get a choice in so many other aspects of combat. As depicted in the movie, they faithfully endure a laundry list of challenges that most often, nobody could anticipate.

As we neared the exit of the theater, my emotions returned in full with nearly uncontrollable tears as I thought about Taya Kyle and the fact that at the conclusion of the movie, a long road lay ahead for her as she entered a battlefield of her own……single-mother, legal decision-maker, sudden public figure and broken-hearted widow. How does any military spouse in a situation like this keep it all together? How do you survive? Is there any way to be ready?

Thankfully, for Taya Kyle, the wives of Navy SEALs are one of the closest-knit groups of women in the military community. Given the dangerous nature of their husbands’ jobs, they are conditioned to rally around crisis, they support each other through inevitable hard times, and they stand together no matter what. I can only imagine that the support network of the SEAL wives, undoubtedly had to have been comforting for the Kyle family as they recovered from their devastation.

But, what about the rest of the military spouse community? Given the same situation, would my friends be equipped to pick up the pieces as gracefully as Taya? Would they be okay emotionally? Would they have the financial means to support their family? What if they gave up college or careers for the military life? Would they be ready? Unfortunately, as difficult as it is to admit, in a lot of situations, the answer is no.

Military spouses are accustomed to sacrifice. Often they trade careers and dreams to be the bedrock for their military family, providing the stability needed in an ever-changing and stressful environment. Many military spouses think it is an either/or decision between having a career or staying devoted to the family. But, is there another way? The reality is that in today’s world, military benefits like healthcare and retirement may not be a sure thing forever, PTSD touches many military families, and more and more families are in need of a second income. Could we do a better job of developing military spouses as individuals to have skills and abilities independent of their military member? As sad as it is, on any given day, any one of us could be in Taya’s shoes. I would hope any spouse’s support network would be as good as the SEALs to support her emotionally, but I think it is time we become even more passionate to encourage military spouses to pursue their education and career goals. Whether it is going back to school to finish up a degree, maintaining a certification they may have put on the back burner, or starting a business to share their talents with others, I have never felt more strongly that the movement for military spouse development should become a top priority.

American Sniper is a 6-time Oscar nominee (including Best Picture), and I can’t help but hope that the film wins them all. Not because of amazing actors, directors, writers or music scores. I hope it wins because it touched us all and its depiction of a military family is real. And in reality, military life is hard. It’s filled with countless sacrifices, relentless dedication, and even death. But emerging from these sad realities are beautiful stories of resilience, unfathomable strength, and new discoveries about the depth of the human soul. My prayer is that we can all be as prepared and poised for our uncertain futures as Taya Kyle. And tonight, regardless of all the Hollywood glitz and glam, in my eyes the true red carpet recognition goes to Taya and the many military spouses she represents.