On December 5 in Mason, Texas, Taya Kyle—wife of American Sniper Chris Kyle and author of the book American Wife—will take on NRA World Shooting Champion Bruce Piatt in the first inaugural American Sniper Shootout. He, a master sniper, will be using standard military gear; she, a novice, will be using TrackingPoint. If he wins, he will go home with one million dollars.
It’s an audacious way to bring the marvel of TrackingPoint technology to a wider audience, and proceeds will support the Chris Kyle Frog Foundation, which aims to strengthen the marriages of troops and first responders. Taya Kyle and TrackingPoint CEO John McHale got on the phone with us to provide some details about the American Sniper Shootout and answer our questions.
A1F Daily: I’ve never heard of a precedent for this kind of competition in the shooting world—a self-described novice going up against a top-rank sniper. What is it about the technology that makes you confident you can bridge the training gap?
Taya Kyle: It’s definitely intimidating to put myself in this position; but the way the gun works, you just lock in a target and the computer system in the gun does all the work for you. John McHale had me out to his ranch to look at it and practice a little bit, and it didn’t take me any time at all to be able to make shots people were training their whole lives to make. And I know that they created the gun with Chris in mind, and that meant talking to Chris about what he factored into making a shot—wind, rotation of the earth and all the nuances you need to take into account for a really spot-on long-distance shot.
A1F: How did your involvement with TrackingPoint come about?
TK: John reached out and wanted to know if we’d be interested in learning more about the gun, because Chris was the inspiration for it, and he did talk to Chris when he created it. All of us would agree that we would give anything for Chris to be here doing this instead. It would be best if I could shoot against him, honestly, to really experience the contrast between the novice and the expert. It just seems like a natural fit to keep the spirit of Chris in there and to bring someone close to him into the picture.
John McHale: It was a bit of serendipity, or maybe divine providence, that I got to meet Chris about the time the ideas were formulated. When it came time to give back—in all our companies, we always try to give back—it was natural to call Taya and support the Chris Kyle Frog Foundation. It’s been one of those journeys for TrackingPoint where we’ve been fortunate, and it’s time to help.
A1F: Could you set the scene for us—what is the challenge going to look like from the perspective of the audience?
JM: We looked at existing shooting competitions and noticed that they don’t really emulate warlike scenarios. And so this competition is being constructed almost like a film set, with the types of challenges that a warrior would confront. There’s simulated fire against them, they have to take shots where they really can’t see the targets, where the enemy is actually running from them—which is pretty common—where they have to shoot without a gun rest. So it’s very different from what you normally see, and on top of that there are special effects—things are going to be blowing up, trucks are going to be flying through the air, there will be a film crew there making a documentary. And there are going to be thousands of people there. We’re hoping that this will be the Super Bowl of shooting events, right here in Mason, Texas. The Chris Kyle Frog Foundation’s mission is to honor God and country by serving families who serve; that includes first responders’ families as well as veterans’ families. The way that we believe we serve the families best is by helping to strengthen their marriages.
A1F: The money that you raise from the American Sniper Shootout will go to support the Chris Kyle Frog Foundation. Could you tell us a bit about their mission? Any recent examples of opportunities the Foundation has provided for couples?
TK: The Chris Kyle Frog Foundation’s mission is to honor God and country by serving families who serve; that includes first responders’ families as well as veterans’ families. The way that we believe we serve the families best is by helping to strengthen their marriages. It’s a culmination of all of my experiences with Chris, looking back at what gave us strength. The overwhelming majority of military marriages didn’t make it when Chris was in, and we certainly felt that pain and struggle. What I realize now is that we were strong through it all, but we could have been stronger. There were things we didn’t know, and we had this sense that we were the only ones dealing with these problems. In meeting first responders’ families, I’ve noticed the same thing from them. Now people read American Sniper, see the movie or read American Wife, and they express to us this feeling that it opened up a dialogue for them that hadn’t been open for decades. All of these things together are teaching us that we can bring people together, show them that we understand and hook them up with other families who also understand; and we can give them time together.
Our goal right now is to master one thing, and we’ve been doing revitalization retreats, where we have a concierge assigned to a couple who walks them through every single step of their weekend away. Everything is paid for; everything is taken care of for that weekend—the idea is that they are just being together. That stems from a gift my mom gave me one time, a chance to visit Chris. We had a weekend, she took care of the kids, he was stuck in training and she sent me out to Ohio. I don’t even remember the city I was in, but I remember him noticing every detail about me—from getting my nails done to everything else—we napped, literally just crawled into bed and napped, ordered room service, watched movies—and it’s one of my favorite memories. That tells me that what these couples really need is just time to be together with no stress, no pressure. Even if it’s in their hometown, they can go to a nice hotel. They can do nothing or do everything, but that pleasure of being together stays with them for months and months.
I don’t want to ramble, but you asked about particular experiences: It’s been so emotional when we have couples who are on the line with us, we’re telling them about the experience they’re about to get, and we have other people on the phone who have donated their resort, or wine from their winery, that sort of thing—and everyone on the call ends up in tears. Service members are used to serving others, not to being served. They’re humbled by the fact that so many people cared, that everyone who gave something—ranging from $5 to a room at a fancy resort—recognized their service and showed that they cared about them in a very tangible way. We don’t just care about them as individuals; we care about their marriage. And I think that’s on a different level from what is currently being done out there. It tends to be a very moving thing, and we’ve gotten feedback from these couples that it’s been life-changing in ways they didn’t expect. We’re finding new ways to reach out to people, but that’s what we’ve tried to master first.
A1F: We’ve covered a number of charities that assist veterans and wounded warriors, and what you’re doing seems pretty unique.
TK: That’s the hope. There are so many charities out there—which is a beautiful thing—and we work with other organizations as well. We don’t want to overlap and have twenty foundations doing the same thing when we can partner with other people and do something really powerful. One thing we try to do is to find partnerships that make sense so we can work together and harness the power of all of these giving hearts. When we get it right, it makes me feel like all of what we went through in our marriage is serving a greater purpose.We’re trying to build awareness because we feel like these guns can save American lives and protect our nation, and we want more people to know about that.
A1F: Is there a certain level of trepidation leading into this, since you’re staking a million dollars on the performance of the technology?
JM: Hell yeah, there’s trepidation; that’s a lot of money! But we know what we have, and we think the odds favor us. The purpose of this isn’t to stand up and show how great we are. We’re trying to build awareness because we feel like these guns can save American lives and protect our nation, and we want more people to know about that.
A1F: Do you feel like this shootout gives you a new layer of connection with Chris’ legacy, to be able to walk in his shoes and make these legendary shots?
TK: It’s interesting: Chris was such a humble person that when he would talk about things, he would say, “I wasn’t the best shot, I was just luckier. I was in the right place at the right time.” He never wanted to be seen as different from anyone else, and certainly no different from his brothers in arms. He loved to see other people succeed. I think that giving other people the opportunity to do what he did with a piece of technology is the best way to honor his life. He’d be so happy for there to be a tool that makes people safer and allows them to do more than he was able to do. He would love that.
Civilians will be able to use it, too. People in ranching know that wild hogs are doing a tremendous amount of damage to their land—millions and millions of dollars’ worth—so this gun is a very good option for them to use in order to be more proficient. Military guys, too—I’ve seen how their eyes light up. I was talking to a guy last night who was a SEAL and a teammate of Chris’—guys like that get so excited about it because they see it as the future of war. Every once in a while you have a big leap that advances the way that wars are fought, and this could be one. Chris’ friend Ryan Job was shot through his eye—he miraculously survived the original gunshot but died three years later in surgery. I can’t know for sure that he would still be alive today had he been using this technology, but he could have avoided that injury.
A1F: Anyone else that you wanted to touch on about this event?
TK: I appreciate your interest in it. Hopefully we’re doing something that helps our guys—and when I say guys, I mean all the men and women who are serving in the first responder community and the military. That’s our ultimate goal, to change the game for them. We’ve been in contact with a lot of people who have been hurt really badly and a lot of families who have lost someone they loved. We really believe that this has the capability to change things in a positive direction for the people who lay it all on the line for us.
For more information and to purchase tickets online, visit the American Sniper Shootout website.