TCU veterans react to box office winner ‘American Sniper’

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    Anyone close to senior Chad Lackovic knows never to wake him up, or they may finds themselves with Lackovic’s hands around their neck.

    Lackovic, a criminal justice major, was a military police officer in the Army for almost nine years.

    He deployed in 2003 as part of the initial invasion of Iraq. In addition to escorting vehicles and traveling throughout the country, he also spent much of his time “outside the wire,” patrolling the outer perimeter of Tallil Airbase.

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    Since completion of his tour, Lackovic was diagnosed with severe post-traumatic stress disorder. Because of this, Lackovic made sure to bring his “rock” – his girlfriend of one and a half years, Sondra Tatum – to see “American Sniper” opening weekend.

    About the film

    “American Sniper” follows the life of Chris Kyle, played by Bradley Cooper. Kyle is famed as the most lethal sniper in American history with over 150 confirmed kills.

    “It’s about a man who’s torn between two great responsibilities – a responsibility to his country and a responsibility to his family,” Director and Producer Clint Eastwood said in the film’s featurette.

    Beginning just before Kyle joins the Navy SEALs, the movie takes the viewer through the four tours Kyle completed in Iraq and the impact they had on his family and him.

    On Feb. 2, 2013, Kyle and his friend, Chad Littlefield, were shot and killed by Marine veteran Eddie Ray Routh on a Texan gun range.

    Routh had been recently diagnosed with PTSD. His trial is expected to begin early next month.

    Even before “American Sniper” was released, the Warner Bros. film had been nominated for Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Actor for Bradley Cooper.

    The film “rockets past expectations” with $107.2 million in ticket sales opening weekend, setting a record for January openings, according to BoxOffice.com.

    Varying opinions: The pros

    Controversial opinions surrounding the film erupted in the media. Reactions ranged from filmmaker Michael Moore’s tweet saying “Snipers are cowards,” to praises from former Alaskan Governor Sarah Palin.

    Responses from TCU veterans are also varied.

    Lackovic said he was “choked up” during the entire movie.

    He saw many similarities between himself and Kyle: They both married just before deploying, came home to a new baby and were emotionally reserved.

    “[The accuracy of the movie] was dead on about how I felt over there and coming home,” Lackovic said.

    Lackovic said he came home angry, slept poorly, drank a lot and became hyper-vigilant.

    “[Do you remember] The scene where Kyle is stateside and constantly checking his mirrors as he’s driving? That was me. I did that,” Lackovic said.

    Lackovic currently takes five daily medications and goes to counseling to help cope with his transition back to civilian life.

    Matt King, a junior early childhood education major and Marine Corps veteran, agreed with the film’s accuracy as well.

    King said the film did a great job illustrating Kyle’s reserved demeanor as well as accurately portraying the war.

    “It was pretty realistic,” King said. “Especially the ‘hangover’ of war.”

    The opening scene where Kyle is faced with deciding to shoot a woman and her child, King said, showed the quick, difficult decisions service members sometimes have to make.

    “War is cruel,” King said. “But, there are people out there trying to fight the battle.”

    King met Kyle at a veteran’s gathering a few years ago.

    “I wasn’t gushy about it,” King said. “But it was surreal. I had heard about [Kyle] before and now I was talking with him.”

    Although King never had to face combat like Kyle, King could see a lot of his friends in Kyle’s struggles.

    “There was a scene where Chris went after the family dog,” King said. “That reminded me of a friend that had to be restrained in a similar scenario.”

    The movie pulled some strong emotion out of King.

    “War is just sad,” King said. “It’s also sad that [Kyle] dies because of another vet with PTSD. He was just trying to help.”

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    Varying opinions: The cons

    Not all TCU veterans enjoyed the film.

    “I didn’t like it,” junior nursing major and Navy veteran Gabriel Gonzalez said.

    “It was like a giant recruitment ad.”

    Gonzalez grew up wanting to join the military and considers himself very patriotic. However, he said the Iraq war was pointless.

    “The movie seems empty,” Gonzalez said. “It doesn’t really show how terrible war is.”

    Serving as a hospital corpsman, Gonzalez spent seven months in Iraq in 2008. He worked in the shock trauma platoon that received injured Marines.

    His tour overlapped with Kyle’s last tour.

    “I heard about him before I deployed,” Gonzalez said. “He was like an urban legend.”

    Gonzalez said the film portrayed Kyle as not being very intelligent and endorsed “hero worship.”

    “Soldiers are regular people,” Gonzalez said. “I like Clint Eastwood, but I think a movie like ‘Letters to Iwo Jima’ is special [for that reason].”

    Gonzalez also struggled with depression for three years after his deployment. He said he does not like receiving discounts or being thanked for his service.

    Speaking out about “the war that everybody’s already forgotten about” has been therapeutic for him, Gonzalez said.

    Instead of venerating a single hero at the box office, Gonzalez said people should “act on their patriotism” instead of just verbalizing it.

    “Forty percent of the homeless are vets,” Gonzalez said. “We lose them to suicide, there’s the [Veterans Affairs] crisis, and nobody gives a shit.” 

    Looking at the bigger picture

    Communication studies graduate student and Army veteran William Howe recognizes there’s been controversy surrounding “American Sniper.”

    “You have to watch it with an open mind to appreciate it for what it is,” Howe said. “The story of what happened in Iraq hasn’t been told, well, until now.”

    Unsure of how he would react to the film, Howe took his mother and father to the Christmas Day early screening for support.

    “It brought up some emotions and some memories,” Howe said. “I was moved that they finally told the true story.”

    Howe said he read that Kyle’s friend, Kevin “Dauber” Lacz, was a military advisor on set. Medal of Honor recipient and Marine Corps veteran Dakota Meyer also defended the film, Howe said.

    Howe said there were details in the film that only service members who served overseas would notice, including the evolution of the body armor and the construction of the Hummer trucks in each tour.

    Recalling the scene where Kyle is talking with the doctor, Howe said it hinted at the repercussions of “giving too much [information],” wishing that it dived a little more deeply.

    “I wish there had been more attention to PTSD,” Howe said. “You can’t live through something like that without having some degree of PTSD.”

    Howe served as a combat medic intermittently from 2003-2005, he said. 

    What veterans want civilians to know

    There were several misconceptions regarding members of the military that TCU veterans wanted to clear up.

    “Soldiers are not superheroes,” Gonzalez said. He said that war is not a video game.

    King said he wants civilians to know service members have a conscience.

    “We’re not all just a bunch of baby-killing degenerates that are screwing people up and killing without a reason,” King said.

    Howe said the film emphasized the family connection.

    “I have a lot of divorced friends,” he said. “I think the film shows how the wife has to be just as strong as the guy over there.”

    Lackovic said he was scared about coming to TCU as an older student veteran. However, he said that he is beating a negative stereotype by getting his degree.

    “People think military people are dumb,” Lackovic said. “[After watching the film], I hope people see us as more real. I almost would’ve rather had an arm or leg blown off instead, because you can see it.”​