As I read the news of Chris Kyle's death, it hit me very hard. I did not know Mr. Kyle personally, but I certainly did know of him, even prior to this story unfolding. The lives of Mr. Kyle and I have several parallels that made it nearly impossible for me to have not known of him. We are both veterans of the War on Terror, with Kyle serving in Iraq while I served in Afghanistan, we are both authors of popular memoirs based on the service to our country, and we both work diligently to bring a voice to those veterans returning home from war who need it the most.
Mr. Kyle's work has risen him to the level of being a hero in the books of many, but the tragic cause of his death has certainly elevated his popularity to a new height. With that popularity has come criticism.
I have heard, repeatedly throughout the day, one variation or another of the questions: "That is so sad, but why would he have ever given a gun to a soldier who may have had PTSD?" or "Why would someone in their right mind take someone thought to have PTSD to a gun range?"
As I mentioned, I didn't know Mr. Kyle, but I can certainly tell you exactly why he would take a soldier with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) to a gun range.
First, it is important to understand what PTSD even is.
Our bodies, our minds, and our instincts are all geared toward survival. Every last person is programmed with a plethora of systems and responses that are all designed to keep us alive in even the most perilous of situations.
When a person is faced with an extremely fearful, life-threatening event, the subconscious mind takes a snapshot of the stimulus activating each of the five senses at the very moment of fear. The brain records what the victim is seeing, hearing, tasting, smelling, and feeling at that moment. The brain then catalogs this to a quick-access system for future use. The next time the brain encounters one of these stimuli again, such as smelling the same odor that was present during the moment of fear, the brain sends a danger warning to the body. The idea is for your brain to react to the same danger, again in the future, without the need to process the situation consciously, saving time and providing a faster response.
The problem with this response system is that we can't just turn it off. We are not able to tell our brain that a particular stimuli is not an actual threat, and it becomes what is known as a "trigger." These triggers are what set off the feeling of fear and panic in PTSD victims, and the long-term effects of living with such triggers have the ability to develop into significant mental instability for the sufferer.
It is believed that one way to reduce the profoundness of the body's reaction to a particular trigger is to expose the victim to it, repeatedly, within a safe environment. Over time, the body may begin to understand that the stimuli being received is not an actual threat, and the event no longer triggers the negative effect it was once associated with.
While there are numerous variations and causes of PTSD, one constant for combat veterans will almost always be gunshots or explosions; the two are almost always present during extremely traumatic events during war. The sound of a car backfiring, a balloon popping, or a firework exploding can become a powerful trigger for many combat soldiers, as they are distinctly similar to the sound of the gunshots experienced during the soldier's moments of fear. One of the best ways to reduce the power of this trigger is to expose the soldier to gunfire in a safe environment -- an environment such as a gun range with friends.
The next crucial aspect to understand is PTSD and violence are not synonymous with one another. Because a person suffers from PTSD, even in profound cases, it does not mean they are any more likely to harm you than if they did not have the condition at all. Is there the possibility of violence? Of course, but that can be said of all people in any set of unknown circumstances.
Now, why would Chris Kyle have brought a soldier possibly suffering from PTSD to a gun range? The answer is quite simple. It is called sacrifice. Sacrifice is a word with a concept that has become lost on many people, but certainly not all. If placing yourself in only a slightly increased risk of danger may have a profound and powerful benefit to someone else, there is nothing questionable about that action at all. In fact, it is quite commendable.
Hindsight is always 20/20, and it is easy to see what can happen after it already has. However, when we make decisions in life, we don't have the benefit of hindsight, and we just go ahead and do the best we can with what we have. That is how Chris Kyle lived: doing the best he could, with what he had, to help someone else. I only wish there were more Chris Kyles in the world.
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