Clear-eyed account of a youth devoted to service as a warrior and a humanitarian.
Greitens (Strength & Compassion: Photographs and Essays, 2008), founder of the veterans charity The Mission Continues, has achieved some impressive milestones, having been both a Rhodes Scholar and a Navy SEAL. Before that, however, he was an inquisitive and seemingly naive youngster, reading books about heroes and worrying he’d been born too late to have a meaningful life. In college at Duke, dissatisfied with his public-policy courses, he began to challenge himself, first by teaching English in China and then by studying boxing at a hardscrabble African-American gym. Intrigued by the art of forging human connections with those different from him, he found more disturbing experiences as a volunteer working with orphaned children in Bosnia and survivors of the Rwandan genocide. He became understandably convinced that “[i]f we really care about these people, we have to be willing to protect them from harm.” In 2001, the 26-year-old Greitens made the improbable transition from Oxford academics to Naval Officer Candidate School, then to the notoriously brutal SEAL training, with its 80 percent failure rate. Following the program’s vividly depicted “Hell Week,” Greitens was a newly minted SEAL when 9/11 occurred. The author served on secretive antiterrorist missions in Kenya, the Philippines and Afghanistan, and was ultimately wounded by a suicide car bomb in Iraq. Shortly after his last deployment, he learned of a close friend’s death in Iraq and channeled his grief (and considerable resourcefulness) into developing a charitable organization that helps wounded veterans restart their lives via participation in public-service organizations. The writing throughout is straightforward and effectively personalized, detailed yet unadorned; one would have to be mighty cynical to resist the power of Greitens’ experiences, and young Americans would benefit from contemplating his message.
A remarkable story told with modesty and grace.