‘American Sniper’ Chris Kyle and Eddie Ray Routh: PTSD in the valley of the shadow of death

Paul Moseley AP In this April 6, 2012 file photo, Chris Kyle, a former Navy SEAL and author of the … Continued

Paul Moseley


In this April 6, 2012 file photo, Chris Kyle, a former Navy SEAL and author of the book “American Sniper,” poses in Midlothian, Texas. Kyle and his friend Chad Littlefield were fatally shot at a shooting range southwest of Fort Worth, Texas, on Saturday, Feb. 2, 2013. Former Marine Eddie Ray Routh, who came with them to the range, has been arrested for the murders.

Chief Chris Kyle, Navy SEAL and author of “American Sniper” who was killed Saturday, was a friend of ours. He was a friend to many. Chris’ death is yet another loss for the special operations community which we’ve served for more than 30 years. Hearts are broken. Anger is reignited. Traumatic memories are triggered. Our wounds are opened once again. And yet, in an irony that trumps Saturday’s apparent blue-on-blue kill, we have a crucial opportunity as a nation to reach for another measure of healing and wholeness.

The alleged shooter, Eddie Ray Routh, is one of our own, a member of the U.S. military family. Initial reports reveal that Routh, a veteran of the Iraq war, had been in and out of mental health care. The cost of his apparent slipping through system’s cracks is now incalculable and irreparable. Even more shocking than the news about Kyle and his colleague, Chad Littlefield, who was also killed, is the harsh reality that untold numbers of other veterans teeter on the brink between mental wholeness and mental hell as they struggle to reintegrate into our communities.

Last weekend’s tragedy underscores the responsibility that we as people of faith have in helping our veterans to completely come home. For years, I’ve held a workshop called “Fighting PTSD with PTSD,” and I’ve learned and shared ways the faith community can help military families dealing with the invisible wounds of war: posttraumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury. I use the PTSD acronym to help others remember what helps and what hurts veterans and their loved ones.

Veterans and their families don’t need:

P. . .to be pigeonholed or pitied, to be placated, pacified, prodded to share or pushed or preached at

T. . .trauma caused by ignorance, their triggers activated, more temptations to self-medicate

S. . .surprised or shocked reactions from us, sarcasm, taking sides, or shame

D. . .to be allowed to stay in denial, our legalistic dogma, dry doctrine

Veterans and their families do need:

P. . .our presence, peace of mind, professional help, physical rest, pardon from real or false guilt, a plan, a path, peers, pleasure, their productivity restored, reminders of their potential, and provision for material needs

T. . .your thank-you, simple and sincere, a team of trustworthy friends around them, your time

S. . .your servant’s heart, solitude, space to sort it out, spiritual guidance, service opportunities, survival skills for life stateside and on the home front, and side-by-side interaction (for men) and face-to-face interaction (for women), your silence vs. clichés

D. . .debriefing, opportunities to download memories and questions, a dream sheet, a map to that destination, doors of opportunity

A Better PTSD

By faith, posttraumatic stress disorder can become a better “PTSD.” If we don’t give up, the pain of the shattered dream can become passing through someplace dark and finally, peace in the shadow of the divine. As members of the community of faith, we also have been given a form of PTSD:

P. . .You and I have a priestly function to speak to God on behalf of the veteran and his/her family and to speak the promises of God into their lives.

T. . .God has put his trust in you and me. He is trusting us to initiate the veterans’ transformation which takes time and truth.

S. . .God has set you and me apart to let the veteran and his/her family know their souls are secure.

D. . .God has designated you and me as ones who can direct the hurting one to the divine healer.

The effect that PTSD and TBI have on the warrior and the warrior’s home is a shadowy place where personal plans and dreams die an agonizing death. The valley of the shadow of PTSD is no place to walk alone.

Marshele Carter Waddell is the co-author of Wounded Warrior, Wounded Home: Hope and Healing for Families Living with PTSD and TBI (March 2013). She served with her husband, CDR (ret) Mark D. Waddell, USN, a career Navy SEAL, for 25 years around the world.

  • msg1667

    As a neighbor of Mr. Routh, I am deeply affected and saddened by what happened to Mr. Kyle and Mr. Littlefield on Saturday. I so wish I had known the pain Mr. Routh was going through so maybe somehow I could have helped. I’m sure I’ll get bashed for having sadness and sympathy for Eddie.
    I so applaud Mr. Kyle’ service and love for our country . I am not trying to diminish his passing in any sort of way. He was beyond an American hero. It is just very sad that another person with mental illness has fallen through the cracks. I think our government should do more for our heros and warriors.

  • Secular1

    I am ambivalent about the heroics of all the combat veterans of the two wars of choice that we were duped into by the political leadership. The first one I ascribe to pure stupidity of rushing into it to show of our masculinity and later for not conducting it in earnest, because of the second one. The second one, at worst we pro-actively duped and misled into it with mountain of lies. At best it could be said that a leadership predisposed for the war, willfully deluded itself that it was making the right choice. That gotten off my chest, i
    I can intellectually say that the soldiers who served heroically deserve our admiration and support for carrying out the mission assigned.

    But my main issue is that our gun culture seems to have caused these two needless deaths. We as a society need to introspect and ask this question our fascination with firearms is sick. But for our culture it is insane that these three individuals would go to a range to fire off their fire arms, when one of them is afflicted with PTSD. But for the gun culture miring their judgement, why would anyone think that a PTSD person’s penchant fro spontaneous violence will not be triggered at a shooting range? This is insane. Tragic as it is, all three of them showed very poor judgement. We hav our gun culture to blame for it.

  • J. Werner

    I would like to see an article describing Eddie Routh’s experiences in combat and what the psychology evaluators and medical doctors consider to be the event or events that caused his psychological and emotional trauma. Much of this may be protected from public dissemination via privacy protections, but I am certain that it will be presented to the jurors for their consideration as they review the evidence. While there is irrational thinking mixed into some of Eddie Routh’s words and actions, there is a lot that also reveals him to possess coherent cognition in the ability to plan an escape and evade capture by law enforcement; understanding that he committed a serious crime; and the criminal intent to commit murder for material gain. From what I currently see and know, I think that Eddie Routh can and should be held personally responsible and accountable for the pre-meditated homicides of two men who posed no threats of harm to him. His last, recent melt-down occurred not as the result of exposure to guns or gunfire, but to the suggestion by his father that his gun(s) be sold. My understanding also, is that Chris Kyle did not pursue Eddie Routh for the mentoring. Instead, it was Eddie’s mother who approached Chris to request him to help Eddie with the trip to the range. Knowing that Eddie had been recently released on bond pending court appearance for DUI and that he had a violent struggle with police during his DUI arrest, his mother should have discouraged the meeting and range trip between Eddie, Chris, and Chris’ neighbor as being potentially dangerous to the two men (ultimately murdered by Eddie). It is not clear to me if Chris was aware of Eddie’s recent DUI arrest and Eddie’s release on bond pending court appearance.

  • persiflage

    Mr. Routh is a calculating murderer and will end up on death row. PTSD is no excuse for homicide and neither is it a particularly good explanation. His motives for this crime are more likely to be based in personality defects and festering anger that were present long before his deployment to a war zone.

    This in no way is meant to diminish the effects of PTSD in combat veterans – but I doubt this was the precipitating factor in this particular crime. This has the premeditation of a disordered personality written all over it.

  • salero21

    Clearly he loved guns, that’s a big problem. Some people love gun more than their fellow human beings. In an interview this man said he had no regrets because all of those he killed were the enemy. I guess he learned that in the movie “True Lies” where the chracter said the same thing.

    This is where the big problem with this type of mentality starts.

    Mt 26:52 “Put your sword back in its place,” Jesus said to him, “for all who draw the sword will die by the sword.