Along with casting actors like Bradley Cooper, who plays Chris Kyle, in the film “American Sniper,” filmmakers also casted several military veterans, one of which was Frisco resident and retired Marine Cpl. Jake Schick. Schick served for six years until he was injured from a blast from tank mine that exploded underneath his vehicle. He is a third generation Marine.
“American Sniper” opened to a limited audience on Christmas Day, with the closest location to Ellis County being at Northpark Cinema in Dallas. The film tells the story of the late Chris Kyle from Midlothian, who served as a Navy Seal sniper and served four tours in Iraq. He is considered to be the deadliest sniper in U.S. military history.
With the film opening nationwide on Jan. 16, here is what Schick about his service as a Marine, his role in the film and what the film means to veterans:
The Waxahachie Daily Light: Did other family members such as your grandfather or father serve in the military?
Schick: Grandfather and uncle both on my father’s side. My uncle was in Vietnam and my grandfather was in World War II.
Daily Light: What unit were you in?
Schick: First Battalion 23rd Marines.
Daily Light: Where was your unit stationed at overseas?
Schick: We were in Al Asad, Iraq — the Sunni Triangle.
Daily Light: What was your job in the military, your military occupation code or MOS?
Schick: I was an O331 machine gunner.
Daily Light: What was your reasoning behind joining the Marine Corps? Was it kind of family tradition or just patriotism or what exactly?
Schick: It was kind of a mixture of all those things. I wanted to carry on the family legacy and I wanted to do something that mattered. Becoming a Marine is something that I wanted to do since I was probably about 8 years old.
Daily Light: During Chris Kyle’s time in the Navy Seals, he worked with a lot of Marine units in the service. Did you have the chance to meet him while you served or did he provide over watch for your unit while you were deployed?
Schick: I didn’t meet him while he was serving. We crossed paths a couple of times. I know that he provided over watch for my guys after I got hit. It would have been for me, but I got wounded. I have gotten really close to his little brother Jeff, who is also a Marine, and to his mom and dad, Wayne and Debby Kyle.
Daily Light: When were you injured?
Schick: Sept. 20, 2004.
Daily Light: How did that happen?
Schick: We were on a quick reaction force mission and my vehicle hit a triple-stacked tank mine. The pressure plat ignited and it blew up directly underneath me and blew me through the top of the Humvee. I never lost consciousness or went into shock when I got blown about 30 feet.
Daily Light: What kind of injuries did you sustain?
Schick: I lost my right leg below the knee. I had 5 inches of my ulna bone in my left arm blown out; lost part of my left hand and multiple compound fractures in my left leg. I had a lot of skin loss, bone loss, ligament loss and muscle loss. Broke every one of my ribs. Then, I had a few scratches on my neck and my face and chin.
Daily Light: What has the rehabilitation process been like for you?
Schick: It is like climbing Mount Everest on your fingertips. It is just a very painful process, but I had a lot of motivation knowing that I had my unit back in the country, hooking and jabbing. I wanted to be upright and shake every one of their hands when they got off the plane and got home. That was motivation enough to be able to push myself and I did. Luckily, that was the goal and I met the goal. It was a great experience to be able to see them and let them know that I am OK and I made it. I was so hyper-focused on all of them coming home in one way or another that I had refused my purple heart from the Commandant of the Marine Corps. I told him that I didn’t want it from him, but I would take it from my commanding officer in front of my company.
Daily Light: Why did you want to accept your Purple Heart that way?
Schick: I had just met him and didn’t even know him. Getting that metal from him would not have meant anything at that point. It meant something getting it from my commanding officer in front of my Marines.
Daily Light: How did you get involved with this film project?
Schick: I was in an HBO documentary that was executively produced by James Gandolfini back in 2006 – 2007 called “Alive Day Memories: Home from Iraq.” I guess one of the casting directors from the movie saw it. One of the gals that works for them in California for Malpaso Productions, Clint Eastwood’s production company, contacted me on Facebook of all places. I though it was bogus. I thought it was a bunch of crap. I ended up calling Jeff Kyle. I said, “Hey man, are they making a movie about Chris’ book?” He said “Yeah man. Clint Eastwood is doing it and Bradley Cooper is going to play Chris. I said, “You won’t believe this.” And, of course, the first thing that he yells is “Hollywood” and started messing with me. So, I ended up talking with that girl the next morning. I did an audition tape the next day and Jeff read Chris’ part, which was cool. He offered to do that and that was very big of him. He had to be tough. I emailed them the video from my iPhone and found out about four weeks later that I got the part.
Daily Light: How did you meet Jeff Kyle?
Schick: I met Jeff at some veteran function two or three years ago. Then we just stayed in touch. We kind of clicked. Of course, he is a Marine and I am a Marine. You always say in the Marine Corps that a Marine never meets a stranger Marine. We just stayed in touch and remained good friends. The more I hung out with Jeff, the more I got to talk with Wayne and Debby. I got close to them. It is a pretty blessed friendship between all of us. I don’t take it for granted. They are great people and they epitomize what it means to be patriotic Americans.
Daily Light: Some veterans don’t like to talk about their service. Why did you decide to do it in this type of manner, being a part of this film?
Schick: I think that it is important that everyone does his or her part in this country. We didn’t to get to where we are by people just being consumers. In this country, you are either a producer or a consumer and I wanted to be a producer. So I joined the Marines. I volunteered for the infantry and loved every minute of it. Even at the times when there are suffering, it is OK because you are suffering with all of your brothers who are there suffering with you. You are not alone. I am honored and privileged to be able to carry the title of United States Marine until the day I die.
As far as the film is concerned, I was more than willing to do that because A — if I got the part, Jeff was going to be a part of it, even though he is not in the movie per say. He was apart of getting my audition done. So that makes him a part of the movie by default. Secondly, my love for the Kyle family is abundant. The fact Clint Eastwood directed and produced it, and Bradley Cooper and Sienna Miller are in it, that is all great, but to be part of Chris Kyle’s legacy on film to me is one of the highest honors you can have. That is why I decided to do it, because of my love for the Kyle family and to help honor Chris’ legacy.
Daily Light: What was the filming process like?
Schick: That was interesting to say the least. I have gotten comfortable outside of my comfort zone because I have come to realize that is the only place you grow. I was uncomfortable to say the least. I had never been in a movie. I had done my share of television stuff, documentaries and news interviews but I had never been in a film. I tell you what, Clint Eastwood and Bradley and the whole production crew made it super easy. They were very, very respectful and very generous and gracious. It just couldn’t have been a more enjoyable experience. It was pretty awesome to say the least.
Daily Light: For people that are going to watch the film, what particular scene are you in?
Schick: I am the one at the end, at the rifle range shooting the rifle and I look at him (Kyle) and say “Who is the legend now?” That was ad-libbed by the way. Clint gave us the green light to little bit of ad-libs. I don’t know where I came up with that, but it came out of my mouth. That small part is important because it goes to show you if a guy like Chris Kyle has had trouble when he came home — I want people to know that it is OK that stuff going on in your head. It is normal. You experience something highly traumatic in combat. It is not something that everyone experiences. A very small percentage of the population experiences stuff like that.
Being a Marine that was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and a traumatic brain injury, there is long road when these guys come home. It takes a lot of times to establish these new norms, or for lack of a better term, be normal again. It is one of most challenging things in the world to bring a (solider) back into civilian society from the military. I think that film hits that nail on the head spot on.
Daily Light: Through your rehabilitation process, have you had a lot of support from people from your unit, family and friends?
Schick: Yes. Absolutely. All of the above. I can say with conviction right now that I would not be here talking with you had I tried to keep doing it on my own. You can’t go through that stuff on your own, you have got to have family and friends and fellow warriors to lean on. That is what we are here for. That is what family is all about.
Daily Light: What was it like to work along side a person like Bradley Cooper?
Schick: It was incredible. Bradley makes it easy. I think that he took this role as serious, if not more serious, than any role he has ever had. It was abundantly apparent because he worked so hard at it. He made it easy. He made you feel comfortable. Clint Eastwood made you feel comfortable being there and being in the moment. They were all great. It could not have been a better experience. It is something that I would love to do again if I ever got the opportunity.
Daily Light: How do you think this film is going to be perceived by active duty military and veterans like yourself?
Schick: You know, I don’t know really how to answer that. I hope as they walk out of the theater that their chest is a little swelled up with pride. That is what I hope because Chris Kyle epitomizes what it is to be an American warrior. All of these warriors that watch this film can relate to it one way or another. Even the ones that watch it and have never been in combat, they know someone who has. I want them to walk out of that theater and be proud. Be proud of what this country is and where we have come and how we have handled these two conflicts. I also want them to walk out of the theater and think about, “Well hell, Chris Kyle struggled. Obviously it is normal for me to struggle and I can reach out for help and no one is going to think less of me.”
Daily Light: What do you want the public to take away from this film, not only about Kyle’s service, but your’s and other veteran’s service?
Schick: Flat out, man, freedom is not free. We fight them over there. We fight them over here. But at the end of the day we are going to have to fight them. I just would like the general public to be appreciative of the fact that we do things that a lot of people in this country would never even think about doing. Definitely not willing to do. So be thankful. Be appreciative. Being a patriotic American has a lot more to do than having a magnet on your car.
Daily Light: What was it like seeing yourself on screen?
Schick: You know, it was not that weird for me. I thought that it was going to be really awkward. It wasn’t. It was all right. With the progression of the film, I really didn’t think about it. It was pretty cool to see myself up there beside Bradley Cooper and my buddy Bryan Anderson. He was my spotter in that scene.
Daily Light: Were there any other veterans in film beside you?
Schick: Yes. Me and Bryan Anderson. Bryan was also in the HBO ”Alive Day Memories: Home from Iraq” special. Then Dauber, who played along side Bradley’s character, he actually fought with Chris in Iraq. I think there were a few others. That is one of the reasons why the film is so gripping, is that they worked hard on getting things right militarily.
Daily Light: Have you gotten any feedback from any other veterans about your performance?
Schick: Yeah, more than enough actually. They all say I have done great and have been gracious and have been very kind about it. But I have also gotten the jars and the jabs, too, which is to be expected. You can’t put yourself out there and come from a community like mine and not expect to get a little razzing.
Daily Light: Anything else to add that you would like the public to know?
Schick: I would encourage them to go and watch the film. Embrace it for what it is. Try and really dig in and elevate your mentality to really understand what this movie is about. — to really get motivated to do more to make a difference in this world.