Kyle is credited as the most lethal sniper in U.S. history with 160 confirmed kills over four tours of duty in Iraq. The recipient of two Silver Star medals and other awards, he and a colleague were shot dead at a gun range in 2013 by Eddie Ray Routh, a former Marine they were trying to help. His murder trial began this week in Texas.
Chris Sajnog, a former instructor at the Navy SEAL sniper school, said if anything can be learned from the tragedy, it's how Kyle chose to live his life.
"He's a true American hero and did great things, not just for the SEAL teams and his teammates, but for our country," he said during an interview with Military.com. "He protected everybody out there and he took that back with him, even when he got out and continued to serve and help people."
Sajnog didn't know Kyle personally. He left his position at the sniper school in 2002, a year before Kyle came through. But he's friends with Scott McEwen, the co-author of Kyle's memoir, and has defended both the book and the movie in speaking engagements with him.
The Oscar-nominated film, directed by Clint Eastwood and starring Bradley Cooper, has grossed almost $300 million at the box office and drawn rave reviews. But it has also generated criticism for softening Kyle's personality and life experiences, and oversimplifying portrayals of Iraqis.
After the movie's release, documentary filmmaker Michael Moore tweeted that his uncle was killed by a sniper in World War II and he was always taught "snipers were cowards." Actor Seth Rogen tweeted that the movie reminded him of a Nazi propaganda film. Both later sought to clarify their remarks.
Sajnog, whose new book, "Shoot Like a Navy SEAL," will be published this summer, said referring to snipers as cowards is "backwards thinking."
"We do what we do to protect other people and to protect our teammates and other civilians in the countries that we operate in who are living lives like normal human beings -- not like, as Chris would rightly say, the savages that they are," he said.
Sajnog entered the Navy in 1989 as a dive medical technician. After working with the service's elite commandos, he decided to become one himself. He graduated from the Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL school with Class 199 and completed several deployments with SEAL Team Two.
After retiring from the sea service, Sajnog started a company called Center Mass Group to offer training to military, law enforcement and civilians. He also began writing as part of a process to obtain his black belt in karate, began blogging and later self-published a book called, "How to Shoot Like a Navy SEAL," which attracted a publisher. An expanded and color version of the book will be published by Second Amendment Media in July or August.
"The common things I've seen throughout as a firearms instructor is people tend to not want to concentrate on the smaller things," Sajnog said. "There are different techniques you can use to make sure you're pulling that trigger back straight to the rear perfectly every time, so it's getting people to understand how to focus on those smaller aspects and how to train."
Sajnog, who sat down with Military.com at last month's SHOT Show in Las Vegas, said he has a contract to write a total of four books. He said his next title will focus more on how to become a firearms instructor. He's also pitching a pilot TV show on firearms training to cable networks.
"I don't know if my wife being an English teacher rubbed off on me," he said, referring to the writing process. "I really enjoy it. I enjoy the opportunity to reach a lot of people and teach."
He added, "Being a supporter of the Second Amendment, I think not only is that important to have, but you have a responsibility to be a good shooter and a safe shooter, so I think it's important to put this out there to help people become better shooters no matter what their job is, whether it's the military or law enforcement or civilians protecting their home."
Sajnog said he initially planned on having a private viewing of "American Sniper" with McEwen during the gun show in Vegas, but his friend was sick and didn't attend the event. So he ended up watching it at a theater back home in San Diego.
"I thought it was well made. The acting was great," he said. "As I wrote on Facebook, I was glad it was a dark theater because I didn't want them to see a SEAL sniper crying at the end of the movie."
-- Brendan McGarry can be reached at Brendan.McGarry@military.com.