Jeff Kyle isn’t a fan of pity – not for himself or for any other veteran that’s faced tough times.
“Get out there, suck up that boo-boo lip and just roll on,” Kyle says. “Be awesome at life every day.”
That’s what he does.
Every. Single. Day.
Hell. It hasn’t been easy – three tours overseas, the loss of brothers, the loss of his brother.
He keeps on kicking in doors, though.
Door one: early years
There was never any doubt Jeff and his late brother Chris would serve.
While other kids their age growing up in Texas were playing cowboys, the two sons of Wayne and Deby Lynn Kyle were fighting combatants and each other.
“Me and my brother were playing soldier out in the woods, down in the creek, having BB gun wars,” Kyle recalls. “There were a lot of trips to the ER with BB’s stuck in our face, things like that. It was just something that we always knew was what we wanted to do.”
Chris went with the Navy and, a year later, Jeff enlisted in the Marines at age 21.
“You can pick out a Marine from a mile away, not because they have crayon on their face or anything like that, but there’s a way they hold themselves, a way they present themselves and I respected that,” Kyle said, explaining why he chose the branch.
Wayne had been tough on the boys growing up, Kyle said, but nothing could have prepared him for boot camp.
“There’s no way you can prepare yourself mentally,” Kyle said. “Physically you can do it, but mentally it was a little bit of a shock. I hated life for a while, but looking back it was one of the best things I could have ever done.”
Door two: deployments
Beginning in 2003, Kyle had three deployments overseas: Bahrain, Africa, and Iraq. All three were incredibly different but began the same way.
“Before every deployment, I would get together with my brother to say goodbye,” Kyle said. “Because we knew one of us may not be coming back. That helped me out quite a bit…it was one of the scariest times of my life and one of the best times.”
He also depended on his USMC brothers to get him through and vice versa.
“Friends don’t hold a candle to the guys I’ve been downrange with,” Kyle said. “There’s no comparison. I don’t even have as close a relationship with my blood family as the guys I went down range with.”
They often used humor to cope with the suck of their conditions and the depravity of war.
“The civilian world thinks we’re a bunch of sadistic, crazy individuals…but you have to put humor into everything or you’re just going to eat away inside,” he said, giving some examples: “Tobasco bombs, locking each other in the shitters, ridiculous stuff. Stuff that would make civilian’s cry.”
Kyle’s last deployment was in 2007 and in 2008 his time was up.
“It was bittersweet,” he said. “Making the decision to not stay in was the hardest decision I ever made in my life. I felt like I was getting a divorce – that I was leaving my family. That was tough.”
Although he still wonders from time to time if he should have stayed in, in 2008 he felt that chapter in his life needed to close. He wanted to have a family and experience life on solid ground.
Door three: civilian world
“I failed at life for a while, sucked at life for sure,” is how Kyle describes his first months as a civilian. “I didn’t know what I wanted to do.”
He tried becoming a Department of Public Safety officer but failed the hearing exam.
He tried working in a gun shop, but dealing with the public so soon after getting home was too much.
It was a lot.
“I didn’t do my mission prep,” said Kyle, about separating from the Marines. “I just got out and ran through the door. It didn’t work. I sucked at life, sucked at marriage, sucked and work. It wasn’t a good situation at all.”
So he moved to Oklahoma and lived alone on a ranch alone for a year and tried to get his head on straight.
When he was done taking care of himself he started a training company and began designing gear for first responders and other veterans and military members who needed it.
Chris, who separated from the SEALs around the same time, started a veteran’s foundation to get veterans – including his brother – back in the gym.
“He saw both of us were sucking at life,” Kyle said. “He got me back in the gym and involved [in the foundation] on the silent side of it.”
Door four: now
Chris and his friend Chad Littlefield were murdered in 2013.
He remains one of the most important people in his brother’s life.
“He’s helped me tremendously be who I am and follow the path that I’m on right now,” Kyle said. “Even though he’s not around I still hear him in my frickin head. Anytime I screw up or I start feeling sorry for myself I can hear him chime right in.”
Their parents, who he says gave them their foundation and deserve props, keep him in awe of their strength.
“Dealing with what they dealt with and still getting up every day…and not feeling sorry for themselves,” Kyle said.
“It’s the first responders who take care of home when we’re overseas and a lot of them are vets anyways. In our mind first responders are just as important as the vets down range,” said Kyle, who also keeps incredibly busy working with and for Pipe Hitters Union Apparel, United States Tactical and 5TC Solutions, to name a few.
“I need more hands,” he said, “I’m involved with so many different organizations because we have to continue on with the brotherhood. We have to continue to help these guys.”
To his brothers and sisters getting ready to separate from the military and kick down their own doors in the civilian world he has this advice:
My biggest advice is have a game plan, but don’t have it set in stone. Be flexible, because civilian life is the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life. I’d much rather be getting shot at right now than have to have a regular job and deal with people on a regular basis. That’s not who we are. That’s not in our DNA. Take everything you learned in the military – take all that advice and put it into your civilian life. Have a game plan every day. Don’t feel sorry for yourself; don’t go around looking for pity. Don’t live in the past. I served my country, I served it well. I served my brothers, now I can serve everybody. Go through that door – kick it in and run.
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