This is a story about a guy I met once. Let’s call him Chris.
I met Chris during a baseball game in March of 2012.
He was coaching his son’s baseball team and I was coaching my son’s. They were in the 3rd base dugout and I was coaching 3rd when were at the plate.
In between innings, Chris and I would chat. He said something early in the game that caught my attention. It was an acronym commonly used in the military. Having spent 8+ years in the Army, it registered when I heard it.
I asked him if he had been in the military and he said “yeah, I was in the Navy for a couple of years.”
Read: Servant Warriors
He then asked me what branch I had been in and what I did. So, I told him. He thought it was really cool that I had spent over a year as the armorer for a Special Forces Group at Fort Bragg. He asked a lot of questions about special operations and what it was like being “behind the fence”. I was quick to tell him that I was not an operator and my experience was vastly different from the guys that wore the green beret. After we gave our post-game pep talks to our teams, he and I spoke for about 45 minutes while our sons played catch.
We played that same team several times that year, as we were in a small league. When then met again during the “fall ball” season. Whether it was head to head, or one team followed the other, he always took time to say hi. He always called me by name. And he always said “hey, thanks again for your service”. I just thought he was a genuinely nice guy that enjoyed being around fellow veterans.
Turns out I was only partially correct.
See, a lot of times I meet people that served, and they love to talk about where they served, who they served with, and mostly what they did during their time in. And there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. It is nice to be in a fraternity of people who understand where you are coming from. Reliving stories with people who have similar ones can be therapeutic.
But never once have I met someone with the quiet resolve and unassuming nature that Chris possessed.
There are plenty of people who would have served with him during those couple of years he was in the Navy who might have a different recollection of him. Their recall may match mine verbatim. I do not know. But I can tell you, I have met very few people in this life that exhibited the level of humility that this guy did.
Let me explain why I say he was humble and unassuming.
Fast forward almost one year from my first encounter with Chris.
It was just another ordinary Saturday. It became so much more than ordinary in the later hours of that evening.
After dinner, I turned on the TV. Flashing across the screen was breaking news. A decorated Navy SEAL sniper had been shot and killed at a gun range near Stephenville.
I looked up from whatever I was doing and saw the photo. My jaw hit the floor. My son looked at me with tears in his eyes and asked me “isn’t that Coach”?
It certainly was. The nice guy that coached baseball and always went out of his way to talk to me was Chris Kyle.
I have met some amazing people in my life. Short of Jesus, my wife and my kids, few have had such an impact on me. We weren’t best friends. We didn’t hang out. We never swapped war stories.
He was just Chris, a guy who wanted to hang out with his son, so he coached his baseball team. He was the epitome of a quiet professional.
He reflected the type of Christ-like humility described in Philippians 2:3-4.
I’m grateful for the lesson he taught me. It had a lasting impact. Chris has been gone 6 years. But the life he lived is still having an influence on me today.
Thank you Chris.
Mitch McKinley is a man of faith, a patriot, a U.S. Army veteran, a member of The Federal Task Force on School and Workplace Shootings – Operation Innocence –, a husband and father of four. He owns his own technology and security consulting firm and is a proud to be a native Texan.