(Writers note: The last time I fired a gun was 15 years ago at the safety of a shooting range. I am horrified, as most everyone I know is, at the huge amount of gun violence in the USA and believe strongly in strict gun control laws. If you feel similarly, visit these sites to find out more about gun control and make a tax deductible contribution — gun control organizations)
Sometimes meeting your heroes turns out to be a good thing. This was definitely the case for Greg Williams and the late Chris Kyle, Navy Seal and subject of the box office hit American Sniper.
While Greg aka ‘Greggo’ was very busy being a controversial radio talk show host in Dallas at KTCK-1310AM – the TICKET and later on KRLD- 105.3FM – The Fan aka the RAGE show (a CBS Affiliate), Chris Kyle was listening to him and was loving what he heard. When Greg discovered that Chris Kyle was actually living in his own back yard, raised in Midlothian, TX and educated at Tarleton State University which many of Greggo’s friends attended, he contacted Kyle and invited him to be a guest on the RAGE show. Kyle excitedly accepted. The mutual appreciation society was born.
The men developed a strong friendship over the two-and-a-half years they knew one another. Kyle had written his now infamous book American Sniper and had his own company, Craft, Int’l, which boasted huge space in Uptown Dallas (near the radio station) containing massive work out rooms and as Kyle vaguely put it, “worked with foreign governments’.
Greggo had always been obsessed with Navy Seals and Kyle liked having someone he could use to get his word out to the people, which Greggo, on the airways from 2pm to 7pm Monday through Friday was happy to do. “Chris loved having a voice on the radio,” said Greggo. “He would often say ‘I can get him to say anything’ and then text me something only to hear it come out of my mouth moments later on the show. He had some strong opinions and he liked the conversations that culminated from his texts.”
Off the air, however, the men didn’t talk much of Kyle’s new found fame and dangerous past. They met for lunch in Uptown Dallas, frequenting Mattitos and Eatsio’s restaurants and talked about (almost) everything else under the sun.
Greggo made an easy effort not to be a ‘fan’ as they fell into a comfortable friendship rather quickly. He did not want to be one of the many who were now courting Kyle as his book was making waves and his fame was escalating, so they kept a lot of their conversations to basic living, guns and sports. “Chris was a huge Cowboys fan and an even bigger Rangers fan. Since much of my radio show centered around sports, my connection to the players excited Chris. He wanted to be them and they admired him. I had both to share. It was a great match.” Greggo did tell Kyle once about his fantasy of becoming a Navy Seal himself but Kyle laughed him off. Greggo knew he could never attain the psychological stamina to pass those grueling tests. Few could.
For Greggo, Kyle was a hero. Kyle, however, saw himself as a warrior. “He never called himself a hero. He didn’t even see himself as a killer, just a man doing the job the government had sent him to do.” That job however, certainly involved guns, something Chris Kyle was very passionate about.
“He wanted my radio partner at the time, Richie Whitt, to shoot a machine gun. Richie was very anti-gun and we were in cahoots to get him to a range and do it. Chris was playful and commanded a room. He believed strongly in what he believed in. There was little halfway mark with Chris. He was all about God, Country and Family and not necessarily in that order.”
Kyle was raised Baptist and remained quite attached to the faith. He was quite shy and because of his military demeanor could appear quite standoffish at times. “What you saw was what you got,” says Greggo about Kyle. “There was not an ounce of phoniness about him. He wasn’t up for all the hoo-ha that started surrounding him and pledged to have the proceeds of the book to go to the families of his fallen comrades”. Greggo admits he knows nothing about what actually became of those proceeds as there has been some controversy surrounding this claim, but states firmly this is what Kyle’s intention was.
Greggo admits that Kyle didn’t like that people saw him only as a killing machine; a trained robot in the trade. He understood, however, that this was a normal way to think of him because he’d achieved all the ‘kills’ and in his Navy Seal Brotherhood he was often referred to as a machine. “He felt it was his job….he was just doing his job. He felt in fact, that his job was to protect people. He said to me once at lunch, “If I do a bad job at work, people die. If you do a bad job at work, someone turns the station.”
“He was never in it for fame or fortune,” claims Greggo. “Most of the Seals he spoke to me about he thought of as very solid men of valor. They were there to help one another and to keep details of their ops private to protect the government. He felt there was no room for ego. Facts were simply facts.”
Nonetheless, for all of Kyle’s desires to appear more human and less a war machine, he was a staunch believer in guns and guns for everyone. He likened anti-gun laws to blaming a pizza for making someone get fat. “He did not support a cooling off period and was a proud card carrying member of the NRA. He felt very strongly that people were responsible for their actions, that the gun was not the issue and that people should have guns no matter what. I disagreed and though I am a huge gun lover, I feel there need to be more rules in place before a gun can be purchased. We disagreed on a lot of things politically – he was much more conservative than I was, but it never affected our bar stool buddy friendship. And, by the way,” jokes Greggo, “Kyle was very good at NOT picking up that bar tab!”
The summer before he died, Kyle was organizing one day civilian shoots at the Rough Creek Lodge Shooting Range (where he was ultimately killed). Here, anyone who signed up could be taught by Kyle himself to shoot weapons from handguns to belt fed machine guns. He had enlisted Greggo’s help to promote the event on the RAGE show. Greggo also suggested putting together a “Military Fantasy Camp” like the Baseball Fantasy camps he had attended. “I told him he could make a fortune and that old guys like me would pay top dollar to be in his company and learn from the American Sniper!”
As far as the movie American Sniper goes, Greggo saw the film on a bootleg video before the movie premiered. He thinks it’s a wonderful piece of art. “It’s one of the best war movies I’ve ever seen. Maybe the best. Sure there were a few corny things and Chris would have cringed at anything that wasn’t portrayed exactly as the military truly was (he references the scenes where Chris called Taya, his wife, from a cell phone while in the middle of sniper position.) He didn’t understand fictionalizing things. But Bradley Cooper was brilliant as Chris. It was literally like seeing Chris on the screen.”
The movie made such an impression on Greggo that instead of attending the Dallas premiere on January 16, 2014 with tickets given to him by Taya’s brother Stewart Smith, he gave his tickets to his girlfriend (now wife) and a friend. “As great a movie as it was, it was hard to watch. I wasn’t sure I was up to seeing it again quite so soon. My emotions were quite raw. His death had a profound effect on me.”
What of the controversy surrounding the movies alleged pro-war status? Greggo says, “If you don’t want to glorify a movie about a sniper, then make a movie about a sniper who’s not a good shot! This is what Chris did. War is essential in the world though nobody likes it. We need people like Chris who feel passionate and patriotic. War is a necessary evil as far as I’m concerned.”
“Yes, violence was glorified. Chris was a violent man when when he was at work. Killing is the ultimate win/loss. This (American Sniper) was a story about a winner. Hurt Locker, another great war film, didn’t glorify killing; it glorified survival. It’s not politicized, it’s a movie. The Godfather glorified crime. Everyone wanted to be a gangster after that film came out.”
Greggo says Kyle would be uncomfortable with all the attention the movie is getting but he’d have a smile on his face. “He’d be pleased, but he didn’t want to go Hollywood or anything like that. When we first met he had just finished doing a reality show on NBC, called Stars Earning Stripes, partnering him with actor Dean Cain and he found it a lot of fun but a surreal experience. He was a man of few words. He liked his life in Texas. He had worked hard to be the best he could be, instilled early by his father to have strong work ethics, and he took what he did seriously.”
“I never saw him suffering. He was smart as a whip, funny and considerate. He had peace of mind. He never mentioned anything was bothering him and felt everything he’d done in war was justified. He was a soldier – he believed in his job.”
Kyle was a man who kept certain parts of his life very private. “I’m fine”, he would tell Greggo if he asked how he was doing. “It was always, I’m fine. I never heard about any problems. I didn’t know he was reaching out to other Vets. He was a man who thought he could save the world and he was going to do his part, whatever he felt that was.”
Even though Kyle never thought himself a hero, Greggo and many others did. “The Navy Seals protected their own. They were as tight knit a group as you could find anywhere. The spectacle of honor at his Memorial at Cowboy Stadium and at the memorial site (which Greggo attended and which was guarded by biker friends in case of protest) were an amazing deference to the reputation and admiration Chris had within his ranks.”
Greggo, who has made the papers throughout the Dallas area for his on and off air exploits and difficulties, is in a good place today. He is almost two years sober. He calls the years of 2007-2013 full of energy, good times and bad luck, much contributed by himself. Counting throngs of Regular Joes, politicians and athletes throughout Texas as fans, he was a big name on the radio and he had and still has a lot of admirers. Chris Kyle became a friend and Greggo is proud of that.
These days Greggo is starting to write again and recently took a small role in the movie Windsor, that writer/director Porter Farrell wrote especially for him. Greggo admits to being at a bit of a crossroads. He has a grown son and wants to make the right choices now that he’s sober. He thinks of Chris Kyle when he thinks about his future. “He was everything I ever wanted to be. A Navy Seal, an excellent father and a good guy. The sign of a true man is when you do something for somebody, knowing you’ll never be repaid. Chris Kyle was that man.”