American Sniper: The Autobiography of the Most Lethal Sniper in U.S. Military History - Chris Kyle, Scott McEwen, Jim DeFelice (2012)

Chapter 8. Family Conflicts

Taya:

We went out to the tarmac to wait for the plane when it came in. There were a few wives and children. I came out with our baby and I felt so excited. I was over the moon.

I remember turning to one of the women I was with and saying, “Isn’t this great? Isn’t this exciting? I can’t stand it.”

She said, “Ehhh.”

I thought to myself, well, maybe I’m still new to it.

Later on, she and her husband, a SEAL in Chris’s platoon, got divorced.

BONDING

I’d left the States some seven months before, only ten days after my son was born. I loved him, but as I mentioned earlier, we hadn’t really had a chance to bond. Newborns are just a bundle of needs—feed them, clean them, get them to rest. Now he had a personality. He was crawling. He was more of a person. I’d seen him growing up in the photos Taya had sent me, but this was more intense.

He was my son.

We’d lie on the floor in our pajamas and play together. He’d crawl all over me and I’d boost him up and carry him all around. Even the simplest things—like him touching my face—were a joy.

But the transition from war to home was still a shock. One day, we’d been fighting. The next, we’d crossed the river to al-Taqaddum Airbase (known to us as TQ) and started back for the States.

War one day; peace the next.

Every time you come home, it’s weird. Especially in California. The simplest things can upset you. Take traffic. You’re driving on the road, everything’s crowded, it’s craziness. You’re still thinking IEDs—you see a piece of trash and you swerve. You drive aggressively toward other drivers, because that’s the way you do it in Iraq.

I would shut myself in for about a week. I think that’s where Taya and I started having problems.

Being parents for the first time, we had the disagreements everyone has about children. Co-sleeping, for instance—Taya had my son sleep with her in a co-sleeper in the bed while I was gone. When I came home, I wanted to change that. We disagreed quite a bit on that. I thought he should be in his own crib in his own room. Taya saw it as depriving her of her closeness with him. She thought we should transition him gradually.

That wasn’t how I saw it at all. I felt children should sleep in their own beds and rooms.

I know now that issues like that are common, but there was added stress. She’d been raising him completely on her own for months now, and I was intruding on her routines and ways of doing things. They were incredibly close, which I thought was great. But I wanted to be with them, too. I wasn’t trying to come between them, just add myself back into the family.

As it happened, none of that was a big deal for my son; he slept just fine. And he still has a very special relationship with his mom.

Life at home had its interesting moments, though the drama was very different. Our neighbors and close friends were completely respectful of my need for time to decompress. Once that was over, they put together a little welcome-home barbecue.

They’d all been great while I was gone. The people across the street arranged to have someone cut our grass, which was huge to us financially and helped Taya with the heavy load she carried while I was gone. It seemed like a little thing, but it was big to me.

Now that I was home, of course, it was my job to take care of things like that. We had a small, itty-bitty backyard; it took all of five minutes to cut the grass back there. But on one side of the yard were climbing roses that climbed up these potato bush trees we had. The bushes had little purple flowers on them year-round.

The combination looked really pretty. But the roses had thorns in them that could pierce an armored vest. Every time I’d mow the yard and come around the corner, I’d get snagged by them.

One day, those roses just went too far, tearing at my side. I decided to take care of them once and for all: I picked up my lawnmower, held it up about chest-high, and trimmed the mothers (the roses and the trees) down.

“What! Are you kidding me?” yelled Taya. “Are you trimming the bushes with a lawnmower?”

Hey, it worked. They never snagged me again.

I did do some genuinely goofy stuff. Having fun and making other people smile and laugh has always been something I like to do. One day, I saw our backyard neighbor through our kitchen window, so I stood on a chair and knocked on the window to get her attention. I proceeded to moon her. (Her husband happened to be a Navy pilot, so I’m sure she was familiar with such things.)

Taya rolled her eyes. She was amused, I think, though she wouldn’t admit it.

“Who does that?” she said to me.

“She laughed, didn’t she?” I said.

“You are thirty years old,” she said. “Who does that?”

There’s a side of me that loves to pull pranks on people, to get them to laugh. You can’t just do regular stuff—I want them to have a good time. Belly laughs. The more extreme the better. April Fools’ Day is a particularly tough time for my family and friends, though more because of Taya’s pranks than my own. I guess we both like to have a good laugh.

On the darker side, I was extremely hot-headed. I have always had a temper, even before becoming a SEAL. But it was more explosive now. If someone cut me off—not a very rare occurrence in California—I could get crazy. I might try and run them off the road, or even stop and whup their ass.

I had to work at calming down.

Of course, having a reputation as a SEAL does have its advantages.

At my sister-in-law’s wedding, the preacher and I got to talking. At some point, she—the preacher was a lady—noticed a bulge in my jacket.

“You have a gun?” she asked.

“Yes, I do,” I said, explaining that I was in the military.

She may or may not have known that I was a SEAL—I didn’t tell her, but word tends to get around—but when she was ready to start the ceremony and couldn’t get anyone in the crowd to be quiet and get into place, she came over to me, patted me on the back, and said, “Can you get everyone to sit down?”

“Yes, I can,” I told her.

I barely had to raise my voice to get that little ceremony going.

Taya:

People talk about physical love and need when someone comes home from a long absence: “I want to rip your clothes off.” That sort of thing.

I felt that way in theory, but the reality was always a little different.

I needed to get to know him again. It was strange. There’s so much anticipation. You miss them so much when they deploy, and you want them to be home, but then when they are, things aren’t perfect. And you feel as if they should be. Depending on the deployment and what I’d been through, I also had emotions ranging from sadness to anxiety to anger.

When he came back after this deployment, I felt almost shy. I was a new mother and had been doing things on my own for months. We were both changing and growing in totally separate worlds. He had no firsthand knowledge of mine and I had no firsthand knowledge of his.

I also felt bad for Chris. He was wondering what was wrong. There was distance between us that neither one of us could really fix, or even talk about.

BREAKING AND ENTERING

We had a long break from war, but we were busy the whole time, retraining and, in some cases, learning new skills. I went to a school run by FBI agents and CIA and NSA officers. They taught me how to do things like pick locks and steal cars. I loved it. The fact that it was in New Orleans didn’t hurt, either.

Learning how to blend in and go undercover, I cultivated my inner jazz musician and grew a goatee. Lock-picking was a revelation. We worked on a variety of locks, and by the end of the class I don’t think there was a lock that could have kept me or anyone else in our class at bay. Stealing cars was a little harder, but I got pretty good at that, too.

We were trained to wear cameras and eavesdropping devices without getting caught. To prove that we could, we had to get the devices into a strip club and return with (video) evidence that we’d been there.

The sacrifices you make for your country . . .

I stole a car off Bourbon Street as part of my final. (I had to put it back when we were done; as far as I know, the owner was none the wiser.) Unfortunately, these are all perishable skills—I can still pick a lock, but it’ll take me longer now. I’ll have to brush up if I ever decide to go crooked.

Among our more normal rotations was a recertification class for parachuting.

Jumping out of planes—or, I should say, landing safely after jumping out of planes—is an important skill, but it’s a dangerous one. Hell, I’ve heard it said the Army figures in combat, if they get 70 percent of the guys in a unit to land safely enough to rally and fight, they’re doing well.

Think about that. A thousand guys—three hundred don’t make it. Not a big deal to the Army.

Oh-kay.

I went to Fort Benning to train with the Army right after I first became a SEAL. I guess I should have realized what I was in for on the first day of school, when a soldier just ahead of me refused to jump. We all stood there waiting—and thinking—while the instructors tended to him.

I’m afraid of heights as it is, and this didn’t build my confidence. Holy shit, I wondered, what’s he seeing that I’m not?

Being a SEAL, I had to make a good showing—or at least not look like a wimp. Once he was taken out of the way, I closed my eyes and plunged ahead.

It was on one of those early static jumps (jumps where the cord is automatically pulled for you, a procedure usually used for beginners) that I made the mistake of looking up to check my canopy as I left the plane.

They tell you not to do that. I was wondering why when the chute deployed. My tremendous sense of relief that I had a canopy and wasn’t going to die was mitigated by the rope burns on both sides of my face.

The reason they tell you not to look up is so that you don’t get hit by the risers as they fly by your head when the chute opens. Some things you learn the hard way.

And then there are night jumps. You can’t see the land coming. You know you have to roll into PLFs—parachute landing falls—but when?

I tell myself, the first time I feel something I’m going to roll.

The first . . . time . . . the f-i-r-s-t . . . !!

I think I banged my head every time I jumped at night.

I will say I preferred freefall to static jumping. I’m not saying I enjoyed it, just that I liked it a lot better. Kind of like picking the firing squad over being hanged.

In freefall, you came down a lot slower and had much more control. I know there are all these videos of people doing stunts and tricks and having a grand ol’ time doing HALO (high altitude, low opening) jumps. There are none of me. I watch my wrist altimeter the whole time. That chord is pulled the split-second I hit the right altitude.

On my last jump with the Army, another jumper came right under me as we descended. When that happens, the lower canopy can “steal” the air beneath you. The result is . . . you fall faster than you were falling.

The consequences can be pretty dramatic, depending on the circumstances. In this case, I was seventy feet from the ground. I ended up falling from there, and having a couple of tree branches and the ground beat the crap out of me. I walked away with some bumps and bruises and a few broken ribs.

Fortunately, it was the last jump of the school. My ribs and I soldiered on, glad to be done.

Of course, as bad as parachuting is, it beats spy-rigging. Spy-rigging may look cool, but one wrong move and you can spin off in Mexico. Or Canada. Or maybe even China.

Strangely, though, I like helos. During this workup, my platoon worked with MH-6 Little Birds. Those are very small, very fast scout-and-attack helicopters adapted for Special Operations work. Our versions had benches fitted to each side; three SEALs can sit on each bench.

I loved them.

True, I was scared to death getting on the damn thing. But once the pilot took off and we were in the air, I was hooked. It was a tremendous adrenaline rush—you’re low and fast. It’s awesome. The momentum of the aircraft keeps you in place; you don’t even feel any wind buffeting.

And hell—if you fall, you’ll never feel a thing.

The pilots who commanded those aircraft are among the best in the world. They were all members of the 160th SOAR—the Special Operations air wing, handpicked to work with spec warfare personnel. There’s a difference, and it’s noticeable.

When you’re fast-roping from a chopper with a “regular” pilot, you may find yourself at the wrong altitude, too high for the rope to reach the ground. At that point, it’s too late to do anything about it except grunt or groan as you hit the ground. A lot of pilots also have trouble holding station—staying put long enough for you to get in the right spot on the ground.

Not so with the guys from SOAR. Right place, first time, every time. That rope drops, it’s where it belongs.

MARCUS

The Fourth of July 2005 was a beautiful California day: perfect weather, not a cloud in the sky. My wife and I took our son and drove out to a friend’s house in the foothills outside of town. There we spread a blanket and gathered in the tailgate of my Yukon to watch the fireworks display put on at an Indian reservation in the valley. It was a perfect spot—we could see down as the fireworks came up to us, and the effect was spectacular.

I’ve always loved celebrating the Fourth of July. I love the symbolism, meaning of the day, and of course the fireworks and the barbecues. It’s just a wonderful time.

But that day, as I sat back and watched the red, white, and blue sparkles, sadness suddenly spread over me. I fell into a deep black hole.

“This sucks,” I muttered as the fireworks exploded.

I wasn’t critiquing the show. I had just realized that I might never see my friend Marcus Luttrell again. I hated to be unable to do anything to help my friend, who was facing God only knew what kind of trouble.

We’d gotten word a few days before that he was missing. I’d also heard through the SEAL grapevine that the three guys he was with were dead. They’d been ambushed by the Taliban in Afghanistan; surrounded by hundreds of Taliban fighters, they fought ferociously. Another sixteen men in a rescue party were killed when the Chinook they were flying in was shot down. (You can and should read the details in Marcus’s book, Lone Survivor.)

To that point, losing a friend in combat seemed if not impossible, at least distant and unlikely. It may seem strange to say, given everything I’d been through, but at that point we were feeling pretty sure of ourselves. Cocky, maybe. You just get to a point where you think you’re such a superior fighter that you can’t be hurt.

Our platoon had come through the war without any serious injuries. In some respects, training seemed more dangerous.

There had been accidents in training. Not long before, we were doing ship takedowns when one of our platoon members fell while going up the side. He landed on two other guys in the boat. All three had to go to the hospital; one of the men he landed on broke his neck.

We don’t focus on the dangers. The families, though, are a different story. They’re always very aware of the dangers. The wives and girlfriends often take turns sitting in the hospital with the families of people who are injured. Inevitably, they realize they could be sitting there for their own husband or boyfriend.

I remained torn up about Marcus for the rest of the night, in my own private black hole. I stayed there for a few days.

Work, of course, continued. One day, my chief popped his head into the room and signaled me to join him outside.

“Hey, they found Marcus,” he said as soon as we were alone.

“Great.”

“He’s fucked up.”

“So what? He’s going to make it.” Anyone who knew Marcus knew that was true. The man cannot be kept down.

“Yeah, you’re right,” said my chief. “But he’s pretty tore up, beat up. It’ll be hard.”

It was hard, but Marcus was up to it. In fact, despite health issues that continue to dog him, he would deploy again not long after leaving the hospital.

EXPERT, SO-CALLED

Because of what I’d done in Fallujah, I was pulled out a few times to talk to head shed types about how I thought snipers should be deployed. I was now a Subject Matter Expert—an SME in militarese.

I hated it.

Some people might find it flattering to be talking to a bunch of high-ranking officers, but I just wanted to do my job. It was torture sitting in the room, trying to explain what the war was like.

They’d ask me questions like, “What kind of gear should we have?” Not unreasonable, I guess, but all I could think of was: God, you guys are really all pretty stupid. This is basic stuff you should have figured out long ago.

I would tell them what I thought, how we should train up snipers, how we should use them. I suggested more training about urban overwatches and creating hides in buildings, things I’d learned more or less as I went. I gave them ideas about sending snipers into an area before the assault, so they could provide intel to the assault teams before they arrived. I made suggestions on how to make snipers more active and aggressive. I suggested that snipers take shots over the heads of an assault team during training, so the teams could get used to working with them.

I told the brass about gear issues—the dust cover of the M-11, for example, and suppressors that jiggled at the end of the barrel, hurting the accuracy of the rifle.

It was all extremely obvious to me, but not to them.

Asked for my opinion, I’d give it. But most times they didn’t really want it. They wanted me to validate some decision they’d already made or some thought they’d already had. I’d tell them about a given piece of gear I thought we should have; they’d answer that they’d already bought a thousand of something else. I’d offer them a strategy I’d used successfully in Fallujah; they’d quote me chapter and verse on why it wouldn’t work.

Taya:

We had a lot of confrontations while he was home. His enlistment was coming up, and I didn’t want him to re-up.

I felt he had done his duty to the country, even more than anyone could ask. And I felt that we needed him.

I’ve always believed that your responsibility is to God, family, and country—in that order. He disagreed—he put country ahead of family.

And yet he wasn’t completely obstinate. He always said, “If you tell me not to reenlist, I won’t.”

But I couldn’t do that. I told him, “I can’t tell you what to do. You’ll just hate me and resent me all your life.

“But I will tell you this,” I said. “If you do reenlist, then I will know exactly where we stand. It will change things. I won’t want it to, but I know in my heart it will.”

When he reenlisted anyway, I thought, Okay. Now I know. Being a SEAL is more important to him than being a father or a husband.

NEW GUYS

While we were training up for our next deployment, the platoon got a group of new guys. A few of them stood out—Dauber and Tommy, for example, who were both snipers and corpsmen. But I think the new guy who made the biggest impression was Ryan Job. And the reason was that he did not look like a SEAL; on the contrary, Ryan looked like a big lump.

I was floored that they let this guy come to the Team. Here we all were, buff, in great shape. And here was a round, soft-looking guy.

I went up to Ryan and got in his face. “What’s your problem, fat fuck? You think you’re a SEAL?”

We all gave him shit. One of my officers—we’ll call him LT—knew him from BUD/S and stuck up for him, but LT was a new guy himself, so that didn’t carry too much weight. Being a new guy, we would have beat Ryan’s ass anyway, but his weight made things a lot worse for him. We actively tried to make him quit.

But Ryan (whose last name was pronounced “jobe,” rhyming with “ear lobe”) wasn’t a quitter. You couldn’t compare his determination with anyone else’s. That kid started working out like a maniac. He lost weight and got into better shape.

More importantly, anything we told him to do, he did. He was such a hard worker, so sincere, and so damn funny, that at some point we just went, I love you. You are the man. Because no matter how he looked, he truly was a SEAL. And a damn good one.

We tested him, believe me. We’d find the biggest man in the platoon and make him carry him. He did it. We’d have him take the hardest jobs in training; he did them without complaint. And he’d crack us up in the process. He had these great facial expressions. He could point his upper lip, screw his eyes around and then twist in a certain way, and you’d lose it.

Naturally, this ability led to a certain amount of fun. For us, at least.

One time we told him to go do the face to our chief.

“B-but . . .” he stammered.

“Do it,” I told him. “Go get in his face. You’re the new guy. Do it.”

He did. Thinking Ryan was trying to be a jerk, the chief grabbed him by the throat and tossed him to the ground.

That only encouraged us. Ryan had to show the face a lot. Every time, he’d go and get his ass beat. Finally, we had him do it to one of our officers—a huge guy, definitely not someone to be messed with, even by another SEAL.

“Go do it to him,” one of us said.

“Oh God, no,” he protested.

“If you don’t do it right now, we’re going to choke you out,” I warned.

“Can you please just choke me out right now?”

“Go do it,” we all said.

He went and did it to the officer. He reacted about how you would expect. After a little while, Ryan tried to tap out.

“There’s no tapping out,” he snarled, continuing his pounding.

Ryan survived, but that was the last time we made him do the face.

Everybody got hazed when they joined the platoon. We were equal-opportunity ballbusters—officers got it just as bad as enlisted men.

At the time, new guys didn’t receive their Tridents—and thus weren’t really SEALs—until after they had passed a series of tests with the team. We had our own little ritual that involved a mock boxing match against their whole platoon. Each new guy had to get through three rounds—once you’re knocked down, that’s a round—before being formally pinned and welcomed to the brotherhood.

I was Ryan’s safety officer, making sure he didn’t get too busted up. He had a head guard and everyone wore boxing gloves, but the hazing can get kind of enthusiastic, and the safety officer is there to make sure it doesn’t get out of hand.

Ryan wasn’t satisfied with three rounds. He wanted more. I think he thought if he fought long enough, he’d beat them all.

Not that he lasted too much longer. I had warned him that I was his safety and whatever he did, he was not to hit me. In the confusion of his head being bounced off the platoon’s gloves, he swung and hit me.

I did what I had to do.

MARC LEE

With our deployment rapidly approaching, our platoon was beefed up. Command brought a young SEAL named Marc Lee over from another unit to help round us out. He immediately fit in.

Marc was an athletic guy, in some ways exactly the sort of tough physical specimen you expect to be a SEAL. Before joining the Navy, he had played soccer well enough to be given a tryout with a professional team, and may very well have been a pro if a leg injury hadn’t cut short his career.

But there was a lot more to Marc than just physical prowess. He’d studied for the ministry, and while he left because of what he saw as hypocrisy among the seminary students, he was still very religious. Later on during our deployment, he led a small group in prayer before every op. As you’d expect, he was very knowledgeable about the Bible and religion in general. He didn’t push it on you, but if you needed or wanted to talk about faith or God, he was always willing.

Not that he was a saint, or even above the horseplay that is part of being a SEAL.

Soon after he joined us, we went on a training mission in Nevada. At the end of the day, a group of us piled into a four-door truck and headed back to the base to get to bed. Marc was in the back with me and a SEAL we’ll call Bob. For some reason, Bob and I started talking about being choked out.

With new-guy enthusiasm—and maybe naiveté—Marc said, “I’ve never been choked out.”

“ ’Scuse me?” I said, leaning over to get a good look at this virgin. Being choked out is a mandatory SEAL occupation.

Marc looked at me. I looked at him.

“Bring it on,” he said.

As Bob leaned over, I dove and choked Marc out. My work completed, I leaned back.

“You mother,” said Bob, straightening. “I wanted to do it.”

“I thought you were leaning over to let me get him,” I told him.

“Hell no. I was just handing my watch up front so it wouldn’t get broken.”

“Well, okay,” I said. “He’ll wake up, then you get him.”

He did. I think half the platoon had a shot at him before the night was out. Marc took it well. Of course, as a new guy, he had no choice.

COMMAND

I loved our new CO. He was outstanding, aggressive, and stayed out of our hair. He not only knew each one of us by name and face, he knew our wives and girlfriends. He took it personally when he lost people, and yet was able to stay aggressive at the same time. He never held us back in training, and, in fact, approved extra training for snipers.

My command master chief, whom I’ll call Primo, was another top-notch commander. He didn’t give a flying fuck about promotions, about looking good, or covering his butt: he was all about successful missions and getting the job done. And he was a Texan—as you can tell, I’m a little partial—which meant he was a bad-ass.

His briefs always started the same way: “What are you sons of bitches doing?” he’d snarl. “Are you gonna get out there and kick some ass?”

Primo was all about getting into battle. He knew what SEALs are supposed to do, and he wanted us to do it.

He was also a good ol’ boy off the battlefield.

You always have team guys getting in trouble during off-time and training. Bar fights are a big problem. I remember him pulling us aside when he came on.

“Listen, I know you’re going to get into fights,” he told us. “So here’s what you do. You hit fast, you hit hard, and you run. If you don’t get caught, I don’t care. Because when you get caught is when I have to get involved.”

I took that advice to heart, though it wasn’t always possible to follow.

Maybe because he was from Texas, or maybe because he had the soul of a brawler himself, he took a liking to me and another Texan, whom we called Pepper. We became his golden boys; he’d cover our asses when we got in trouble. There were times when I may have told off an officer or two; Chief Primo took care of it. He might chew me out himself, but he always smoothed the way with head shed. On the other side of things, he knew he could count on Pepper and me to get a job done if it needed doing.

TATS

While I was home, I had a pair of new tattoos added to my arm. One was a Trident. Now that I felt like a real SEAL, I felt I had earned it. I had it put on the inside of my arm where not everyone would see, but I knew it was there. I didn’t want it to be out there bragging.

On the front of my arm, I had a crusader cross inked in. I wanted everyone to know I was a Christian. I had it put in in red, for blood. I hated the damn savages I’d been fighting. I always will. They’ve taken so much from me.

Even the tattoos became a cause for stress between my wife and myself. She didn’t like tattoos in general, and the way I got these—staying out late one evening when she was expecting me home, surprising her with them—added to our friction.

Taya saw it as one more sign that I was changing, becoming somebody she didn’t know.

I didn’t think of it that way at all, though I admit I knew she wouldn’t like it. But it’s better to ask for forgiveness than permission.

Actually, I had wanted full sleeves, so, in my mind, it was a compromise.

GETTING READY TO GO

While I was home, Taya became pregnant with our second child. Again, that was a lot of strain for my wife.

My father told Taya that he was sure once I saw my son and spent time with him, I wouldn’t want to reenlist or go back to war.

But while we talked a lot about it, in the end I didn’t feel there was much of a question about what to do. I was a SEAL. I was trained for war. I was made for it. My country was at war and it needed me.

And I missed it. I missed the excitement and the thrill. I loved killing bad guys.

“If you die, it will wreck all our lives,” Taya told me. “It pisses me off that you would not only willingly risk your life, but risk ours, too.”

For the moment, we agreed to disagree.

As it came up to the time to deploy, our relationship became more distant. Taya would push me away emotionally, as if she were putting on armor for the coming months. I may have done the same thing.

“It’s not intentional,” she told me, in one of the rare moments when we both could realize what was happening and actually talk about it.

We still loved each other. It may sound strange—we were close and not close, needing each other and yet needing distance between us. Needing to do other things. At least in my case.

I was anticipating leaving. I was excited about doing my job again.

GIVING BIRTH

A few days before we were scheduled to deploy, I went to the doctor to see about getting a cyst in my neck removed. Inside his examining room, he numbed the area around it with a local anesthesia, then they stuck a needle in my neck to suction the material out.

I think. I don’t actually know, because as soon as the needle went in, I passed out with a seizure. When I came to, I was out flat on the examining table, my feet where my head should have been.

I had no other ill effects, not from the seizure or the procedure. No one really could figure out why I’d reacted the way I did. As far as anyone could tell, I was fine.

But there was a problem—a seizure is grounds for being medically discharged from the Navy. Luckily, there was a corpsman whom I’d served with in the room. He persuaded the doctor not to include the seizure in his report, or to write what happened in a way that wouldn’t affect my deployment or my career. (I’m not sure which.) I never heard anything about it again.

But what the seizure did do was keep me from getting to Taya. While I’d been passing out, she had been having a routine pregnancy checkup. It was about three weeks before our daughter was due and days before I was supposed to deploy. The checkup included an ultrasound, and when the technician looked away from the screen, my wife realized something was wrong.

“I have a feeling you’re having this baby right away,” was the most the technician would say before getting up and fetching the doctor.

The baby had her umbilical cord around her neck. She was also breached and the amount of amniotic fluid—liquid that nourishes and protects the developing infant—was low.

“We’ll do a C-section,” said the doc. “Don’t worry. We’ll get this baby out tomorrow. You’ll be fine.”

Taya had called me several times. By the time I came to, she was already at the hospital.

We spent a nervous night together. The next morning, the doctors performed a C-section. As they were working, they hit some kind of artery and splashed blood all over the place. I was deathly afraid for my wife. I felt real fear. Worse.

Maybe it was a touch of what she’d gone through every moment of my deployment. It was a terrible hopelessness and despair.

A hard thing to admit, let alone stomach.

Our daughter was fine. I took her and held her. I’d been as distant toward her as I had been toward our son before he was born; now, holding her, I started to feel real warmth and love.

Taya looked at me strangely when I tried to hand her the baby.

“Don’t you want to hold her?” I asked.

“No,” she said.

God, I thought, she’s rejecting our daughter. I have to leave and she’s not even bonding.

A few moments later, Taya reached out and took her.

Thank God.

Two days later, I deployed.