Two years ago, former Special Warfare Operator 1st Class (SEAL) Kevin Lacz was working as a technical adviser on the movie "American Sniper" the movie when director Clint Eastwood asked him if he'd like to play himself, recreating his 2006 Iraq deployment alongside then-SO1 (SEAL) Chris Kyle.
Now, he's written down his own account of that summer in "The Last Punisher," a memoir that blends blow-by-blow replays of the Battle of Ramadi with snippets of his life before and since the teams, written together with his wife Lindsey and former Marine Corps combat correspondent Ethan Rocke.
"This isn't your typical knuckle-dragger just telling a story," he told Navy Times. "We wanted it to appeal to a lot of different audiences."
Lacz was spending his time drinking and playing rugby while failing out of James Madison University when the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks inspired him to enlist. After some time as a corpsman, he reported to Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL training in 2003.
Today, Lacz is a licensed physician's assistant, professional speaker, founder of the veterans charity Hunting for Healing and New York Times bestselling author, following his memoir's July 12 release.
He talked post-traumatic stress, selling the SEAL name and the controversy surrounding his old SEAL Team 3 shipmate in a July 21 phone interview. Questions and answers have been edited for brevity.
Q. Why did you decide to write a book?
A. Having worked on "American Sniper," I got a lot of feedback. Some were, you know, "Thanks for your service." And others were like, "Sorry you had to go through all that." And they were referring to that 2006 deployment. And I didn't know how to respond back to them, because I didn't feel what they felt, because I never felt like a victim. That 2006 deployment was very powerful for me and I enjoyed my time in the military.
I wanted to tell a story of brotherhood. I feel like some movies don't get that correct. I feel like in an attempt to do a character study on Chris Kyle," American Sniper" doesn't really dive into the brotherhood. You know, Biggles dying in the movie, and Marc Lee getting shot, tug at your heartstrings, but you don't understand why you should be invested in these characters. They're not just characters in "The Last Punisher," they're human beings. And you see why they're important human beings and you see what makes them tick and why it makes that brotherhood so special.
I’ve read a lot of the memoirs. I support Team Guys regardless. And I wanted to write a memoir that really juxtaposes machoism and humility in the same piece. The opening chapter, me dropping my magazine. I talked to a couple of guys and they were like, "Holy shit! That’s happened to me before!" And I’m like, have you ever told anybody? And they’re like, "No!" And I’m like, did you ever make that mistake again? And they’re like, "No!" and I mean, it’s an important lesson to tell people. SEALs make mistakes, but when you make a mistake, that’s the last time you should make that mistake
Q. Why focus on Ramadi?
A. That deployment is very vivid in my mind for a lot of different reasons. It stood out the most. The individuals we had in the platoon obviously shine through in the writing. It was such a perfect conglomeration of talents that everything worked perfectly, and it just happened to be at one of the most pivotal times in Operation Iraqi Freedom. I think the very small role that we played helped transition to the surge and helped lift the success of western Iraq at a time when peril was high.
It was easy to write about, there was a lot of context, but also, some of the most important people in my life are no longer with us, and I worked in the s--- with them on that deployment.
The Last Punisher by Former SEAL sniper Kevin Lacz
Photo Credit: Simon and Schuster
Q. What's your take on using the trident as a marketing tool?
A. When you read the book, it's not me beating my chest, standing on a pulpit, talking about how cool I am. It's more a testament to the people I served with.
I was hanging out with Rob O'Neill last Tuesday, we were out in New York. And I was like, "Man, you catch a lot of s---." To quote my platoon chief Tony, very early on in the teams: He said, "Dauber, if everybody in the teams likes you, you're doing something wrong." That's a life lesson there.
When it comes to writing a book, of course there are going to be Team Guys sitting in chat rooms that hate on what you do, regardless. They will pull that one line from the SEAL creed that says, "I don't seek credit for my actions." That's true. But I'm a former SEAL, and I'm using my experiences in the teams. I was a good Team Guy, I did my job, I interdicted the enemy when called upon.
I use my experiences in the teams to make myself better in whatever direction I go. I went from a college dropout to Magna Cum Laude at UConn, to Wake Forest [University] – which is not a school for idiots. I'm a part-owner in a medical practice and now I'm a New York Times bestselling author.
So when it comes to representing the teams, you can go one of two directions: You can sit in a dark room and hate on other Team Guys, or you can go out and represent the community and make it that shining light that people will always want to be a part of.
Q: How did you pick your co-writer?
A: Ethan was brought to our attention by Alex. I met him over the phone. I like his style, I read a few things he had written. I liked that he wasn't of the same mindset as me. He was a Marine Corps combat correspondent, and he has different political views than me. He thinks about things differently than I do and I felt that was healthy to write a very honest look at the SEAL teams. I felt like if somebody was too much like me, we would kind of be biased. His coaching got a lot of the raw facts out of the story.
Lindsey's an absolutely literary genius. She teased a lot of the moetion about of certain encounters, like the first time I shot somebody. Because I used to tell the story like, "Yeah, I just shot him." She was like, well now we need to talk about how you felt.
Q: What was the writing process like?
A: We wrote about four chapters by May 2015, and then Ethan flew out in June and we sat in interviews for like two days straight. He had about 20 hours of footage. He would break it out by chapter and then transcribe the chapter into words. He's send it to me – I would cut, add, try to make it flow a little better. Then we'd send it to Lindsey.
Eventually she came up with the idea of adding an introduction to each chapter as kind of an introduction to the theme of the chapter. And I felt like literary-wise, that was the icing on the cake.
Q. Did you feel like you had control of the story? Was there ever any pressure to punch something up or downplay something else?
A: They actually gave me pretty free rein to do whatever I wanted. I told them what I wanted to do and I wasn’t going to change it for them. I think this is a big thing, too, that I want other veterans to know. It’s okay to write a book. Don’t be constrained to what somebody tells you to write about. You should write about what means the most because that will make the best product. They wanted more Chris in the book and I was like, "Hey, this is not going to be a love affair with Chris Kyle. Chris was a person in the platoon just like Marc Lee and Ryan Job. He’ll be in there accordingly." I think that’s where I put my foot down the most. This is going to be a raw, real account of what happened in 2006.
There is a lot about Chris because Chris killed 101 people on that deployment. A large part of our success, especially when it comes to metrics, in Ramadi was because of Chris. Chris was a senior E-6 in the platoon and he was pretty essential in the strategy. Tony is probably represented more, my senior chief, than Chris was. When it comes to leadership in the platoon, our platoon chief was the core.
Q. Is this how you pictured your life when you first got out?
A. Four months removed from Iraq, I was in college in a sixth period writing course where we had to read Shakespeare, and I was surrounded by some kids who couldn't read. Some of them were asking me, "Hey, can you buy beer for us? Come to my frat party." And I really thought all was lost.
At that point it time, I didn't know if I was going to be as successful on the outside as I was in the SEAL teams. I knew when I got out I had a direction to go. Becoming a PA was a career path that I wanted. What I want to do, and hopefully what we're trying to show, is that you can do whatever you want to do. So did I expect to be here? Maybe not here, exactly, but I knew I was empowered by the experiences I had in the teams, in the Navy, and I could point that in the right direction.
Former SO1 (SEAL) Kevin Lacz, left, and former SOC (SEAL) Chris Kyle, right.
Photo Credit: Photo courtesy Kevin Lacz
Q. Chris Kyle has been in the news lately with questions about his service record. Do you find yourself answering a lot of questions about him, and do you think anyone doubts your word, by association?
A. I mean, it's good to talk about Chris. I want to talk about Chris, Ryan, Marc Lee. I've realized that the less you talk about it, the more it dies. With guys like that, they are great Team Guys. They're great examples of bravery in battle.
In Chris's record, it's definitely come up. Here's the deal: I deployed with Chris on two deployments. He got the Silver Star in 2006, and three Bronze Stars. But he also did two deployments before I got there. So I couldn't tell you about the other Silver Star and Bronze Stars.
But without getting too political, I really think there are more people in higher positions that probably demand more scrutiny than Chris Kyle, who's dead. In regards to my reputation, I mean, I don't have anything to hide.
When it comes to Chris, people are like, "Well, you defend Chris at all costs." The biggest honor to have as somebody deployed is the protection of your buddy, the person to the right and left of you. And Chris was one of those people that I protected, and everybody else in the platoon, and vice versa. Never once, behind the gun, in thought or action, did Chris give me a reason to doubt him.
Q. What is it like seeing Iraq fall to ISIS, specifically in Ramadi?
A. I don't think that should be any different for Team Guys or anyone who fought in World War II. If you're an American, if you've worn the uniform and fought for a piece of ground — if you have to give it back because of politics and rhetoric, you better be pissed. You know having been in combat what it takes to go ahead and win that and how much it means when you lose somebody.
We were winning in Iraq when we left. To see that sacrificed for politics is frustrating. As you know, what Chuck did over there, and not just SEALs but everyone else – there are lions on the battlefield out there. But unfortunately, they're lead by lambs. They're led by people who are more willing to implement social policies rather than identify the enemy and kill them on the battlefield.?
Q. You've said that you don't suffer from post-traumatic stress, and the book goes into research about an estimated 2 percent of the population who don't suffer psychologically from taking a life. Why was it important to include that?
A. When "Sniper" came out, we were kind of assuming that a lot of people that go overseas have PTSD or PTS. But in addressing [Former Army Col. Dave Grossman] and Killology, we wanted to make a distinction. As a veteran, as a health care provider, I know PTSD is real. I feel the more we go ahead and generalize that everyone who goes overseas has PTSD, it's bad for those who have it and it's bad for those who don't.
I think that's the problem with movies, like "Born on the Fourth of July," even some points of "Sniper." It reinforces that stereotype. What we tried to do with "The Last Punisher" is abolish some of those stereotypes.
Q. Do you see yourself writing more?
A. You know, the way we left the book, there's kind of room for a second one, isn't there?