Why The Navy Revised the Medal Count of “American Sniper” Chris Kyle

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Chris Kyle in the 2012 reality show 'Stars Earn Stripes.'Getty Images

Navy SEAL Chris Kyle is in the news again. The Navy has officially revised his record regarding the number of medals he received during a decade of service that included four tours of Iraq.

In his memoir, American Sniper, Kyle wrote that he had received two Silver Stars and five Bronze Stars. But following the Navy’s review, it was determined he had been credited with one additional Silver Star and one Bronze on his discharge papers, or DD214. (The review came in the wake of a report about discrepancies by the website The Intercept.)

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Kyle remains the most decorated sniper in military history, but questions regarding his record and his claims continue to surface, even after he was murdered by an ex-Marine in 2013. During his lifetime, he was dogged by his seemingly unlikely story of sniping looters following Hurricane Katrina (a story fellow SEALs are not as willing to readily dismiss) as well as his total number of kills. Most recently, his estate won a victory when a defamation ruling against Kyle, in a suit brought by Jesse Ventura, was tossed out of court.

Former Navy SEAL Brandon Webb, bestselling author of Among Heroes and founder of the military news site SOFREP, was in SEAL Team 3 with Kyle in 2001, and knew him throughout his career. We talked to Webb via e-mail about this latest revelation.

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What does this revision in medal count actually mean?

I think it means that the Navy and Chris's SEAL Team admin and local base command, where records are kept, just had a simple mix-up. Chris wouldn't have had much of an influence in the process. Most of us didn't have much time for keeping records, medical- or service-related. We were too busy focusing on the next mission.

How often does this sort of thing happen?

Ask any veteran who's ever served if they've had inaccuracies in their personnel records, and I think most would say this happens on a regular basis. I personally received an end-of-tour award as the Naval Special Warfare sniper course manager a full year after I had already separated. This is not on my DD214 and not sure it even made it on my official record anywhere. It happens.

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Why would the Navy, at this late date, go back and revise the medal count?

This is the part that makes the least sense to me. I'm not sure why the Navy did this, but I suspect it's purely politically driven. The men who serve in the Special Operations and SEAL Teams don't do this kind of work for the medals, period.

Chris said he received a Navy expert rifle medal too, which it seems he wasn’t officially given credit for.

As a qualified sniper, Chris had to have qualified for an expert rifle medal, so this again shows how the Navy can miss things. When I was the head sniper instructor, no sniper would start the program unless they qualified for an expert rifle medal by Navy standards.

Does this change anything about Chris's legacy?

I don't think it has any relevance to the legacy of one of the greatest snipers produced by Naval Special Warfare. It also saddens me to see hack reporters take cheap shots at Chris's legacy. He's a hero, the fundamental truth remains: that he was a combat-proven SEAL sniper, and was selfless in his service to both his country and fellow veterans right up to the very end.  

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