A new book by a former SEAL dives into the gritty detail one of the most vicious fights of the 10-year Iraq War and helps fill in the blanks of the story about the legendary sniper who's heroism propelled his memory into a blockbuster film.
Kevin "Dauber" Lacz is a former Navy SEAL whose career saw time in some of the most violent and contentious battles of Operation Iraqi Freedom, including the 2006 Battle of Ramadi. Lacz' SEAL Team Three included names that are now familiar (and famous) in American popular culture, including "American Sniper" Chris Kyle, Mike Monsoor, Ryan Job and Mark Lee.
These are but a few of the players in Lacz' new book, "The Last Punisher: a SEAL Team Three Sniper's True Account of the Battle of Ramadi," now available for pre-order and in stores July 12.
Lacz in Ramadi.
While Lacz was deployed to Ramadi with SEAL Team Three, he kept track of the accomplishments of his unit — not just the Chris Kyles of the war, but the Marines and Soldiers who fought alongside him and the officers who lead them. The book does a lot more than highlight the stories of SEAL door-kickers, but instead describes how the entire U.S. military team battled the enemy in the darkest days of the Iraq insurgency.
"We started doing some cool stuff I wanted to remember," Lacz says. "There were a ton of heroes from the SEAL teams to the support manual to help us. I felt it was necessary to go into detail because a lot of people don't hear about the supporting cast. That was the pulse of this narrative."
Lacz is part of a new "2 percent" – that part of the population that Army Ranger and psychologist retired Lt. Col. Dave Grossman wrote about in his book "On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society."
Grossman proposes that 2 percent of the male population is able to participate in combat without psychological consequences – that this 2 percent can kill without the psychological trauma usually associated with taking a life. That theory made sense to Lacz, an admitted 2-percenter.
"People talk about Chris [Kyle] and Mike [Monsoor]," says Lacz, "but to talk about a gentleman who came back after being in the reserves, in his late forties, and acting like a 26-year-old lethal badass when the platoon needed him most? It's stuff like that that makes storytelling unique."
Chris Kyle asked Lacz to help with his book "American Sniper," and Lacz was also involved in the film — helping write the screenplay and portraying himself on screen.
One of the things that struck Lacz most was the portrayal of post-traumatic stress in the Clint Eastwood film.
Lacz with Director Clint Eastwood
"When I saw the PTSD cues that it had, I felt it was necessary to write about the 2 percent of people that go to war, fight in combat and come back normal," Lacz remarks. "I wanted to try and get away from the perception that everybody who goes to war and sees combat has PTSD."
That's one of the driving themes of "The Last Punisher." Lacz gives detailed accounts of sniper overwatch missions all over Ramadi. He doesn't skip the grimy, bloody details, either. He tells the story of how one SEAL teammate had to move a dead enemy, tactically, toward a hospital while wearing his full kit. Lacz describes in detail how pulling the trigger on his Mk 11 – how the shots crumple the enemy's body after creating the telltale "pink mist" of a good kill.
None of the violence is gratuitous. The consequences of an illegal kill are grave. Lacz talks about the confirmation necessary for a sniper to take a shot, the rules of engagement to kill an insurgent.
"As a professional warrior – a steward of the American flag – you operate under a strict set of guidelines. My rules of engagement were clear. Hostile action or hostile intent were the behaviors for which I could kill an insurgent. The presentation of the artillery round left no doubt. I felt the switch as my breathing deepened and my heart slowed even more. I felt every muscle in my body relax as I tightened the slack in the match-grade trigger of my Mk 11. The muj [mujahideen, or enemy combatant] stood, looking up in my direction and, from behind a pair of binoculars, Chris [Kyle] said, 'Dump him.'"
"I wanted to give a visceral feeling of war," Lacz says. "I wanted them to get an intense feeling of what camaraderie is. It's a simple story, but it's a powerful story and it shows why the teams were important to me. I want to tell stories like that."
His stories are powerful and Lacz does not paint himself to be a superhuman operator. He writes about his first run as a new guy SEAL, clearing an entire house in Iraq without a magazine in his weapon.
He gives the same treatment to his teammates. Ralphie misses a shot. The Legend can't pick a lock. Dauber (Lacz) leaves for a mission without hydrating.
This is war. This is special operations. This is reality.
And while it would be difficult to put ourselves in the mindset of a recruit going through BUD/S (the SEALs' basic underwater demolition course) we can all relate to being the FNG — no matter the unit.
Lacz with Bradley Cooper in American Sniper
"I think people are enthralled with Navy SEALs, from their training down to their operations," says Lacz. "You don't know what qualities guarantee you'll make it through training. I wanted to pull all that together and say the best I can, 'These are the type of people I worked with and these are the qualities, this is why they made it.' "
"People want to hear that," he adds. "We always look towards SEALs in one way or another, and I think giving them a better background and writing it more like a non-fiction novel helped do that."
Don't be put off by the human side of Naval Special Warfare portrayed in Lacz' book. He includes many of the anecdotes loved by veterans and military history buffs. He describes his own anger and desire for revenge against the enemy every time he loses anyone in uniform — whether SEALs or Marines. He (and other SEALs) feel a deep, intense rage seeing Americans in uniform make the ultimate sacrifice.
The muj opened up on the patrol with what sounded like an insane amount of fire. I heard AKs, PKCs, and RPGs going off like Armageddon a few blocks to the southeast.
"Jesus Christ," Tony said. "Anybody got a line of sight on that contact?" Nobody did. We couldn't engage.
"Well, sh*t," Chris said. "What do we do now?"
"I've got a flag in my body armor," I said.
"Well, sh*t yes, let's run it up. Draw some attention away from that patrol." Chris got off his gun and crawled over to my position. I took the flag out of my body armor while Chris found a big aluminum pole. He grabbed the flag and tied it to the pole.
"Let's f*cking hoist it," he said.
Marc pulled out his little video camera and started filming the historic event while Jeremy joined Chris and me as we hoisted the flag up, flying it high on the rooftop in the middle of Muj country. We all crouched there, beaming at what had to be one of the most America-f*ck-yeah moves in the entire war.
Lacz wrote "The Last Punisher" with the help of his wife Lindsay and journalist and Marine Corps veteran Ethan Rocke. Lacz acknowledges the 10-year gap between the book and his deployments, saying he delayed writing the book to make sure it was as accurate as possible. If he couldn't remember the details, he didn't include it in the book.
"Each chapter has a specific theme," Lacz says. "I think it's more of a literary work than just a memoir of some guy putting a tape recorder down and just spewing everything he can remember about deployment. That's what I want people to take away."
Lacz believes doing this project with his wife was integral to the quality of the work. He believes all warriors should write about their experiences, from SEALs to Rangers to Marines.
"I wanted all veterans to write their stories, especially for their spouses," he says. "It answers questions for them. The spouse will never know 100% of what they did or what they've gone through, but I think it's important for more people to tell their stories. Lindsay didn't pry, she just needed to find the details out. She has a better pulse about who I am."
"The Last Punisher" hits shelves July 12.