A molecular-biologist-turned-Buddhist-monk says altruism is the answer to many of the world's most pressing challenges. Can concern for others help solve wealth inequality, climate change and world hunger?
Eric Greitens has traveled to some of the world’s most desperate and dangerous conflict zones, first as a teenage volunteer and later as a much-decorated lieutenant in the US navy SEALS. Throughout his life and public service, a deep concern for human suffering has provided the common thread. In his book “The Heart and the Fist” Eric Greitens tells his story firsthand – how a young Rhodes scholar transformed into an elite warrior and then eventually into a humanitarian and civic leader. He joins us to discuss why he believes it is vital to remain both compassionate and strong, and why a soldier’s work is never done.
- Eric Greitens a U.S. Navy SEAL officer and founder/CEO of The Mission Continues, a nonprofit organization
Read an Excerpt
Excerpted from “The Heart and the Fist” by Eric Greitens. Copyright 2011 by Eric Greitens. Excerpted here by kind permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
MS. SUSAN PAGEThanks for joining us. I'm Susan Page of USA Today sitting in for Diane Rehm. She's on vacation. As a student at Duke and Oxford, Eric Greitens volunteered in refugee camps and orphanages around the world. Seeing the aftermath of genocide in Rwanda prompted him to join the military. He served in Afghanistan and elsewhere. And he joins us now in the studio to discuss his book "The Heart and the Fist" and his view that humanitarians may make the best warriors. Welcome to "The Diane Rehm Show."
MR. ERIC GREITENSSusan, a pleasure to be on with you. Thanks for having me.
PAGEWe invite our listeners to join our conversation. We'll take your calls later in this hour. You can reach us at our toll-free number, 1-800-433-8850, send us an e-mail at email@example.com or find us on Facebook or Twitter. Well, I read in your book that as a boy growing up in Missouri, you read about great heroes of other eras and you worried that the kind of the time of heroes had passed you by.
GREITENSYeah, you know as a kid, I always read a lot of those "Choose Your Own Adventure" books and I'd stay up late at night flipping through the pages, trying to play the game of the book and at the same time, I was reading these great stories of George Washington and Bunker Hill and Abraham Lincoln and even stories about Martin Luther King. And I read stories about history and, you know, Moses and the Athenians and Thucydides and I just wondered as a kid, like what's left, you know? What are the frontiers to conquer? What are the adventures to have? And how do you make a place for yourself in the world?
PAGEWell, that's certainly something your life story -- you're just 37 now, but your life story has been a search for adventure and meaning.
GREITENSYes, absolutely. I mean, it's a combination of wanting to, I think, test yourself and to challenge yourself and then also to find a way to live a life that's really meaningful where you feel like you're leaving something behind.
PAGENow, one of the early trips you took as a student was to China and you say that that was a place where you lost some of your naivete. What happened there?
GREITENSYeah, so when I went to China, I was 19 years old and keep in mind, this is the first time I'd ever been abroad. I was a kid, grew up in the Midwest and before I went to college, I'd never been outside the country, never really been very far outside of the Midwest.
GREITENSAnd so I went to China and found myself in a situation where I was teaching English to a class of students who were usually in their early to mid-20s. Now, this was in 1993 and a lot of these students had been involved in Tiananmen. And when I opened the class up for questions, the first questions that people were asking me were about the Constitution and freedom of speech and the Bill of Rights.
GREITENSAnd I thought it was a little bit odd, but I started, you know, answering all of these questions and a couple of days later, I found myself arrested and brought into a police station and questioned about what was happening in the English class. So by the time I left China, I certainly left with a much deeper appreciation for the realities that other people faced and an awareness that people my age were right there creating history.
PAGEYeah, yeah, that was a great time in China. So you came back from China, you went to college. One of the stories you talk about is that you came back and decided to take up boxing.
PAGEWhy did you want to do that?
GREITENSSo my maternal grandfather, Harold Jacobs, we always called him Shaw. He told me all of these stories as a kid about boxing and you know, he'd grown up in Chicago in the Depression and I remember listening to all these stories about boxing, so I always had an interest in boxing, but never could have done it when I was a kid at my own house in St. Louis. So when I went to school, I went down to the inner-city gym in Durham, N.C. and I eventually found a guy who would become my coach and trainer, Earl Blair (sp?).
GREITENSAnd my training partner, Derrick Humphrey, who was a professional boxer at the time and I ended up spending every night with them for the rest of my college career learning how to box. And so I ended up having this incredible education where I'd be reading about Aristotle in the classroom at Duke University, where they'd teach that Aristotle says, you know, that the good thing is by seeing what the good man does. And then I'd go down to the boxing gym in Durham, N.C. and there would be Earl saying to me, watch Derrick, watch how he throws a jab. And I ended up leaving with this great education of both in the classroom and in the gym.
PAGESo you majored in philosophy in college, so what did you do -- what do you think you learned in boxing that you did not learn in college?
GREITENSWell, I think one of the things that you learn in a sport like boxing and one of the things that you learn in life that you cannot learn in the classroom is how you actually deal with pain. You know, one of the things that Earl knew was that in order to teach us well, he had to challenge us. He had to push us and he would often push Derrick and I to a place where we were absolutely exhausted.
GREITENSBut he also knew that that made us stronger. And I think that one of the things that you started to see in the gym was what you could become by challenging yourself, by confronting that pain, by dealing with even the suffering that actually comes through an incredibly intense practice and how with the right teacher and the right friends, you can actually become stronger through that practice.
PAGEYou know, you really saw later in the book, you drawing on those resources when you were going through the very arduous training to be a Navy SEAL. Man, that sounded like one rough period.
GREITENSWell, Navy SEAL training is everything that it's cracked up to be. It is the hardest military training in the world and in our class, Susan, we started with over 220 people in our original class and by the time we graduated, we were down to 21. And over the course of that training, they've got you doing things like swimming 50 meters underwater. They ask you to swim down 50 feet, tie a knot and come back up and they put you in small teams and ask you to land these small rubber boats on jagged rocks in the middle of the night.
GREITENSAnd there's one evolution called drown-proofing and what they do is they tie your feet together and then they tie your hands behind your back and with your feet tied together and your hands tied behind your back, you then have to jump in the pool. And then once you're in the pool with your feet tied together and your hands tied behind your back, you then have to swim 50 meters. And all of this is just a prelude to what is considered the pinnacle of SEAL team training, the hardest week of the hardest military training in the world, which is called Hell Week.
PAGEYou know, what was -- what struck me is that many of the physical tasks during Navy SEAL training sounded really, really tough, but what was stunning to me was that you had people, members of your class, who quit not because they couldn't do it, but in anticipation that they couldn't do it.
GREITENSExactly. And this was one of the great lessons that actually came for me out of the SEAL team training is that people -- I said that we went from 220 down to 21. I could count on one hand the number of people who I saw quit when they were actually doing something. What would happen is people would quit when they started to think about how hard it was going to be, how difficult the night was going to be, how cold the water was going to be, how hard the run was going to be.
GREITENSAnd it was when we had those breaks, it might just be five, 10 minute breaks, when people were alone with their thoughts and they started to get trapped inside their mind, that then they'd go and they'd ring the bell and they would quit. Once people decided that they were going to do something, they almost always found the strength to make it through.
PAGESo that's really such a key lesson in your book, right?
PAGEDon't anticipate you're going to fail, just kind of suck it up and do it.
GREITENSYes. I mean, one of the things that I think is a lesson that goes straight through "The Heart and the Fist" is that in all of these situations, whether it was refugees in Bosnia, survivors of the genocide in Rwanda, Navy SEALs going through training, people in combat, wounded and disabled veterans today, all of them have to find a way to begin. And once you find a way to attack your fears, face them head-on and start, people then begin to build courage through that process of confronting fear and pain.
PAGEYou know, it's interesting you started out not in the military, but working as a volunteer with orphans abroad and with refugees abroad. Talk about that work and how that shaped your decision ultimately to go into the military.
GREITENSYeah, so for me, my first time doing international humanitarian assistance abroad was in 1994 and I went to work with Bosnian refugees. These were survivors of the ethnic cleansing and I worked in two different refugee camps, one in Puntizela and one in the Gasinci refugee camp.
GREITENSAnd in the camps, I remember sitting in one of the shelters talking with one of the men in the camp who said to me, he said, I appreciate that you're here. He said, don't get me wrong, he said, and I appreciate that the international community has built this shelter and I'm glad that there's a kindergarten here for my kids and I'm glad that there's food available for my family. He said, but if you really cared about us, you'd be willing to protect us.
GREITENSAnd I wasn't sure what to think of that at the time. I was 20 years old, I was a little bit moved, but also confused about what he had lived through and I later thought that, of course, what he said was true, that if we love anything in our lives, then we're willing to respond not just with compassion, with care, but if someone or something that we love is threatened, we're willing to respond with courage and to protect it.
GREITENSAnd so for me, seeing that in Bosnia, later seeing it in Rwanda convinced me that while the world needs tremendous humanitarians, we also need some people who are willing to be warriors.
PAGEBut you had been a philosophy major, a humanitarian volunteer. Did you feel like there was some conflict with becoming not just a soldier, but a very elite warrior in the Navy SEALs?
GREITENSYou know, I actually saw through the work that I had done in Bosnia and in Rwanda. What I'd seen was that we had to have people who are willing to protect. When I was in Rwanda, for example, I remember seeing this church that was full of skeletal remains. All of these people who had been killed in the genocide and I remember thinking that we knew what was happening and if we had been willing to respond, we could have saved hundreds of thousands of lives. And so I did feel like there was a place for me to continue to serve as a warrior as well.
PAGEWe're talking with Eric Greitens, He's written a book called "The Heart and the Fist: The Education of a Humanitarian, the Making of a Navy SEAL." He's also the founder and the CEO of a group called The Mission Continues, which helps wounded and disabled veterans serve their country once again as volunteers when they come back to the United States. We're going to talk to him about The Mission Continues when we return from just a very short break and we're also going to go to the phones. If you'd like to give us a call, the toll-free number, 1-800-433-8850. You can always send us an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. Stay with us.
PAGEWelcome back, I'm Susan Page of USA Today sitting in for Diane Rehm. And with me in the studio is Eric Greitens, he was a Rhodes Scholar, a Navy Seal and now the CEO of a group called The Mission Continues. He's here talking about his book "The Heart and the Fist." So The Mission Continues. How did that -- how did you come to found that organization?
GREITENSThe Mission Continues grew out of my experience in Iraq. I'd been serving there as the commander of an Al-Qaida targeting cell in early 2007 when my team was hit by a suicide truck bomb. I was very fortunate in that my wounds were minor. I was taken to the Fallujah surgical hospital. I was treated there and I was able to return to duty 72 hours later. But a couple of my friends that day were hurt a lot worse than I was.
GREITENSAnd so when I came home to visit them, I also went to Bethesda to the Naval Hospital to visit with some of our recently returned wounded Marines. And it was actually in talking with a lot of those recently returned wounded Marines that we developed the idea for The Mission Continues because you talk with one of those young men or women, you can ask them a little bit about their unit, their hometown, their deployment and then you say to them, what do you want to do when you recover? And they all say to you, I want to return to my unit.
GREITENSThe reality was for many of them, though, is that they weren't going to be able to return to their unit. And so I had seen before in my humanitarian work in places like Bosnia and Rwanda that would help people to live through tragedy was to have a sense of purpose and a sense of meaning again. So when I left the hospital that day, I called two friends who were disabled veterans, I told them about what I'd seen. They put in the money from their disability checks, I contributed my combat pay and we used that to start The Mission Continues to help wounded and disabled veterans continue their mission of public service again here at home.
PAGESo what kinds of things do they do?
GREITENSSo we take veterans who've come home and we place them with organizations like Mothers Against Drunk Driving, the Red Cross, Habitat for Humanity. They become biology teachers, they become science teachers, they become youth hockey coaches, martial arts instructors. And the big idea is that we help them to start to serve again in their community. And it's by starting to serve again that they reconnect to their sense of strength and they begin to have a profound effect on their communities around them.
GREITENSWhat we know from working with these men and women is that they're not problems, they're assets. And that if we engage them in the right way, they can come back and make all of our communities stronger.
PAGEYou know, Eric, we've seen all these veterans return from Afghanistan...
PAGE...and Iraq and elsewhere and many of them seem to struggle.
PAGEThe unemployment rate is high, we know the suicide rate is high. Why has it been so hard for some of these returning soldiers?
GREITENSWell, I think there are a number of reasons why it's been hard. Certainly for a lot of men and women, when they come home, they struggle to figure out how do they use this incredible strength that they've developed through their military service, how are they going to use that in their community here at home? And oftentimes, it's not really obvious. For the men and women who we have often worked with who have been wounded and disabled, they know that their military career is no longer available to them. If they were in the reserve or the guard, oftentimes, their civilian career is no longer available to them.
GREITENSSome of them are literally waking up in the morning, seeing a different person in the mirror and then having to figure out how they're going to continue to live a meaningful life. And what we do at The Mission Continues we say, it's not a charity, it's a challenge. And what we do, what we find -- this goes back to that lesson straight from boxing and from the Seal team training, is that we go to them and we challenge them. And when we challenge them and we challenge them to find a way to continue to serve, they start to see themselves as assets again. They start to see their own strength and they start to recognize that we really believe in them.
PAGEHave there been cases where it hasn't worked?
GREITENSYes. You know, this is -- we're dealing with a difficult population that's facing a lot of obstacles, physical injuries, Post-traumatic stress disorder. And not every person who we contact ends up becoming a Fellow. What is fantastic is that by the end of this month, we'll have 180 Fellows who we've worked with around the country and over 90 percent of them leave their fellowship to go on to full-time employment, full-time education or some combination of the two.
PAGEWe have a caller, Brian, calling us from Houston, Texas who says he's a vet who did actually do a fellowship with Mission Continues. Brian, thank you for joining us.
BRIANWell, thank you very much. It's great to talk to you. I am actually currently a Fellow right now and I just started my fellowship last month with The Mission Continues project.
PAGEAnd Brian, tell us what kind of project are you working on?
GREITENSI work with the Lone Star Veterans Association in Houston and my job as the communications director is to run the website, the social media, keep the 2000 plus veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan updated on what we're doing. And then some side projects that we're working on is just developing a softball league, you know, a bike team to go out and do some exercise. And then also doing an emergency response team training with the City of Houston to help out with disaster relief in Houston with the veterans who want to continue to serve in that capacity.
PAGEWell, that sounds really valuable. Brian, tell us just a little bit about your military service.
BRIANI was a medic in the Missouri National Guard and the Texas Army National Guard. I deployed to Iraq in '06 with a medical support company and I did rescue missions north of Baghdad at an area called Balad. Before I joined the Army, I was a firefighter EMT and I did join up when I was 23 just to kind of broaden my horizons and to, you know, take what I knew to other places in the world.
PAGEAnd Brian, if you don't mind me asking, I know that many of the veterans who work with The Mission Continues have been disabled or wounded in combat. Is that the case with you?
BRIANI do have a disability of tinnitus and I do suffer from PTSD, but one of the wonderful things about this program is I'm allowed to work with Lone Star Veterans more freely because of the fellowship program and it is the work that is the best therapy. It is doing something with veterans as being part of that community. It's working with guys and girls my age who've been where I've been and understand what I'm doing. And that is the best form of therapy I've ever had.
PAGEYeah, well, Brian, thank you so much for your service and thank you very much for giving us a call on the show. Eric, what do you think?
GREITENSWell, I think you heard it from Brian and every time you talk with any one of The Mission Continues Fellows, I think people leave inspired. This is a guy who's served the country overseas, has come back and is now continuing to serve. And he's an incredible example for everyone around him and he's making his city and his community stronger.
PAGEAll right. Brian, thank you again. Let's talk to Brent, he's calling us from Sarasota, Fla. Brent, welcome to the show.
BRENTYes. Thank you very much for having me on. I was listening to this gentleman talking about warriors and it seems to me that maybe we need to have a warrior as a president so maybe somebody would go get these gangster types who have control or get control over different countries around the world and then they starve their people, like these guys, for instance, now in I think -- where is it -- some African country saying that there's no famine in their country, when you see all these kids and babies dying, people dying. I mean, those people do not deserve to remain as leaders. Somebody should just go in there and take them out.
PAGEAll right, Brent. Thanks for your call. I wonder, Eric, if you think that political leaders who have served not only in the armed forces, but perhaps in combat, do you think they would have a different or distinct perspective when it comes to policy making in office?
GREITENSI do think that it's absolutely critical to have some policy makers who have actually served in combat. And the reason why it's so critical is that it gives you a real understanding for both the possibilities and the pitfalls of using military force. It -- military force is not a perfect weapon and anytime you draw the sword, you're going to create casualties and the innocent are going to suffer. And when you've had people who've had really tough hard experience working on the frontlines, they bring a perspective to a lot of these political questions that is invaluable.
PAGEYeah, do you have any interest yourself, I mean, thinking ahead in your career, do you have any interest in politics?
GREITENSI have had a number of people ask me to think about political office since I've come home and I've told them all no because I really enjoy the work that we're doing at The Mission Continues. And I think that right now, The Mission Continues is on the frontline of making sure that this generation of veterans can come home and be successful. At some point in the future, I might consider it, but for now, it's really -- the mission is The Mission Continues.
PAGEDo you think the government, the Veterans Administration and other government agencies do a pretty good job in trying to help returning veterans or do you think there are problems with how the government proceeds?
GREITENSWell, I think there are probably two problems here. One is that there is still a problem of communication between the bureaucracies, between the Department of Defense and the VA. One of the things that we often find is difficult for our veterans is they can get lost in that handover. So when you're first injured, you're still in the Department of Defense. And you come home you might get treated at Walter Reed or Bethesda or Brook Army Medical Center. Eventually there comes a point where you're medically retired and you go home. And oftentimes, we haven't seen the kind of handoff between the Department of Defense and the Veterans Administration that we want.
GREITENSBut in addition to that, I would say that this isn't just a government problem. Certainly the government has a role to play, but these men and women are going overseas to fight for all of us. And we all have a duty as citizens to find a way to get involved and to make sure that when they come home, their reintegration is successful.
GREITENSAnd one of the things that we've loved doing at The Mission Continues is engaging civilians around the country, for example, in service projects, where they come out and they do service alongside wounded and disabled veterans, and, in fact, all veterans who've come home. And by doing that, we've had actually over 16,000 Americans who have come out to serve alongside us and I think that helps communities meet their responsibilities as well.
PAGEAnd of course, we've had the situation where we've got these veterans coming back home at a time when the economy is weak...
PAGE...in the United States, where joblessness is high, especially in some parts of the country. It makes it harder, I think, to reintegrate vets into the civilian world.
PAGEAbsolutely. And a lot of times, these men and women are coming home and they're not sure exactly how that skill set translates back home. We know as veterans, they have incredible strength. They've learned how to work under pressure, they know how to inspire people, they know how to meet deadlines, they know how to do mission planning, they know the -- they know all of these things. But being able to translate that skill set to a civilian employer sometimes is difficult, which is why at The Mission Continues we ask people to start to serve again and through that service in the community, they begin to understand how their skill set begins to actually create a real difference in the community around them.
PAGEWell, let's talk to Maryann. She's calling us from Pensacola, Fla. Maryann, you're on the air.
MARYANNGood morning. I was just driving along and thinking about my problems and I turned on the radio just as you started to talk about the Navy Seal training. And it reminded me of my son who needs help with drug addiction and he has just gone back to work and I heard the part about if you think about it, no one quits once they get started. It's when you're thinking about it and think that you can't do it. And he's been back to work for three weeks now so I'm going to call him and share with him how don't sit around and think about how hard this is, so I wanted to tell you how much that meant to me.
PAGEWell, Maryann, thank you very much for your call and we certainly send our best wishes to your son on his journey.
GREITENSYeah, Maryann, thank you very much for the call. I really appreciate you making that call.
MARYANNWell, it meant a lot to me and I wanted you to know.
PAGEAll right. Maryann, thanks very much.
PAGEI'm Susan Page and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." We're taking your calls, 1-800-433-8850 and we're going to read your e-mails. Here's an e-mail we got from Charles who writes, "My dad was a World War II vet and one lesson he taught me that I have passed onto my children is the worst thing about quitting is that it's easier the second time."
GREITENSAbsolutely. You can actually build a habit for yourself of quitting or you can build a habit for yourself of recognizing the fact that you're afraid, recognizing the fact that something's going to be painful and then still finding a way to do it. And, you know, one of the things I'll mention about, you know, Charles' e-mail and also Maryann's comment is that one of the things that was really striking to me when I was in the refugee camps and then again in Seal team training was how important it was that when people were in a moment of great personal pain, they were still able to think about the fact that other people were counting on them.
GREITENSOne of the things that helped Seals to make it through that training was, you know, they have been pushed past their physical and mental and emotional limits. Incredible athletes now have been pushed way past the envelope of their talent and yet, even in the moment of their great pain, the people who were able to make it were able to say, even though I'm in incredible pain carrying this log down the beach, for example, there's somebody to my left who needs me, there's somebody to my right who needs me. And there was that sense that they had a mission of service to others, even in that -- in the midst of that pain, that helped them to make it through.
PAGENow, we, of course, had the Navy Seals in the news recently with the successful attack on Osama bin Laden...
PAGE...in Pakistan. And I wonder, as someone who is so familiar and served as a Navy Seal, what was your perspective on that? Could you envision what they were doing?
GREITENSYou know, I -- my first perspective was I was incredibly happy as an American that the raid was successful. And then when I heard that it was the Seal teams, I was really pleased for the entire Seal community and especially for the guys who undertook that raid who were really all heroes. And, you know, one of the things that I think is important to recognize is that the people who undertook that raid, many of them had been involved in this fight for nearly nine and a half years and they'd been involved at great personal sacrifice and their families had sacrificed.
GREITENSAnd yet it wasn't just their physical courage and their tactical proficiency that made this happen. It was also the fact that they had the heart of warriors and they had this sense of perseverance and dedication to something larger than themselves that ultimately resulted in that successful mission that night.
PAGEYou -- are you the only Rhodes Scholar to become a Navy Seal?
GREITENSI believe that there is one other Rhodes Scholar who has been a Navy Seal.
PAGESo talk about how your experiences as a Rhodes Scholar figures in your approach to things?
GREITENSYou know, one of the things that was fantastic about my time at Oxford was it was this wonderful education not just in the classroom, but again in the world. And so when I was at Oxford, I was able to work in India with some of Mother Theresa's missionaries of charity. I was able to work in Cambodia with kids who'd lost limbs to landmines and work in Chiapas, Mexico. And in all of these situations, I think I got a real solid sense for what was really important is not just having the right set of ideas, but it was the ability to connect those ideas to power and to action in order to actually change things. And so that was a great part of my Oxford education.
PAGENow, you talked in the book about an ancient Greek concept. Is it phronesis? Is that ?
GREITENSPhronesis, yes, yes.
PAGEWhat is that?
GREITENSSo phronesis is so interesting 'cause it's a concept that we really don't have a word for in English. You could say that it's something like common sense, but it's really more than that. What phronesis means is it means practical wisdom. And phronesis is the ability to both figure out what to do in any given moment, while also knowing what is worth doing. So the idea is it's a practical wisdom, that you're wise about your intentions. You're wise about your ends and at the same time, you have a very clear understanding of the means that you need to actually get there.
PAGEWe're talking with Eric Greitens about his new book "The Heart and the Fist" about his experiences as a humanitarian worker and volunteer and also as a Navy Seal and as the leader of a group called The Mission Continues. We're going to take a short break. When we come back, we'll go to the phones, 1-800-433-8850 and we'll read some of your e-mails. You can e-mail us at email@example.com. Stay with us.
PAGEEric Greitens, we've gotten several e-mails from people wondering if your book, "The Heart and the Fist," is appropriate for teenagers.
GREITENSIt is, in fact. One of the best things that's happened with the book is that it's actually been picked up by a number of schools as a character education book. And what they've found is that for a lot of teenagers who are struggling with their own sense of identity, they're struggling to find out how they can make a difference in the world, that "The Heart and the Fist" has really helped them to think about their own journey as well.
PAGEHere's an e-mail from Pam who writes us from Virginia. She says, "My 13-year-old son is enamored with the military. Guns and the whole assortment of violence, it seems to attract many boys. Do you have any advice to help direct him in a positive, compassionate way?"
GREITENSGreat question from Pam. I think one of the things that's so important to recognize and that I write about in "The Heart and the Fist" is that to be a real warrior means that you actually develop your strength in order to be of service to others. And one of the best things that Pam and others might be able to do is to connect their son, connect young people in their life to the right kinds of models and examples of what it means to use your strength in order to serve others.
GREITENSIt's certainly true for a lot of young men that they've got a tremendous amount of energy and vitality and they're trying to figure out, how do I use this? And I'm getting stronger and I -- like, what does it mean to be a man? What does it mean to be a warrior? How do I actually serve others? And one of the best things that you can possibly do is put the right models in front of young people so that they can actually see, that's what it means to actually grow and to develop and to use my strength to be of service.
PAGEAnd so what would be an example in a community of a model that might work in that way?
GREITENSYou know, one of the things that's been fantastic for us -- there are a couple of examples. In my own life, having Earl Blare play that role in the boxing gym was tremendous for me in my college years. One of the things that we've seen in our communities is that our mission continues, fellows sometimes play that role. And they can play that role as youth hockey coaches, as martial arts instructors, as baseball coaches. And a lot of times, some of those models and examples might be in an athletic pursuit.
GREITENSOther times, it can be trying to connect people through the right place in the classroom. One of my good friends in St. Louis, Harlan Hodge, runs a program called Character Chess and he actually, through the chess team, Harlan serves as an example for a lot of people who are, you know, young men in St. Louis today.
PAGELet's talk to Luke, he's calling us from Kalamazoo, Mich. Luke, hi, you're on the air.
LUKEThanks a lot for taking my call. Eric, I read your book. Mr. Greitens, excuse me.
GREITENSIt's all right, Luke.
LUKEAnd I very much enjoyed it. I very much enjoyed it. I grew up Mennonite and if you're familiar with the faith tradition, pacifism is one of our core values. And I think your book deals with an interesting -- just a position of both humanitarian aid and force through violence. And I'm wondering if you reject the idea of absolute pacifism.
GREITENSYeah, great, fantastic question, Luke. I actually have tremendous admiration for people like Gandhi, for example, who are absolute pacifists. I think the key, though, to be a really strong pacifist, it actually still means not that you avoid conflict, but that you're willing to actually put yourself in a place where you're going to use peaceful means in the middle of conflict. And I have tremendous, tremendous respect and admiration for people like Gandhi, for other people who have taken that kind of peaceful approach.
GREITENSI think one of the things I find is that they actually have that same set of courage because they're actually willing not just to talk about being pacifists, but they're actually willing to go to the front lines themselves and to use those peaceful means. So actually, Luke, I have tremendous respect for people who pursue that path in their own service.
LUKEThank you very much.
PAGEThanks very much for your call, Luke. Let's go to Don, he's calling us from Baltimore, Md. Don, welcome to "The Diane Rehm Show."
DONHey, thank you for taking my call. I was listening to this in the car and I kind of -- I think that The Mission Continues is an incredible program, however, I came in on the part about the need for warriors and humanitarians and my question is, if everyone says that there's a need for warriors to defend -- you know, to defend what they love and every single nation does this, then this is how you start conflict. So what's your opinion about this idea of nationalism and, you know, patriotism and taking to the extreme of we need to have warriors to protect our interests and such as it relates to many, many different nations around the world?
PAGEOkay, Don, thanks for your call.
GREITENSYeah, great, great question, Don. So one of the things actually that I teach is that -- and just to put a little more detail behind this, the idea of what it means to be a complete warrior. Now, we often say, I say, that to be a complete warrior, there are four principles. One is, you know, no worst enemy, no better friend. You've probably heard of those things before, Don. It means that you're certainly willing and you're able where necessary to defend and to use force. It also means to be a warrior, it means that you have to be an incredible friend.
GREITENSThere's two other pieces to the complete warrior mindset and one of them is no better diplomat. One of the very first warriors in Western culture was actually Odysseus and in "The Odyssey," Homer writes about Odysseus, he says, he was a great, clever warrior king. And the thing that makes Odysseus so special in Homer's eyes is that Odysseus is someone who knows how to talk with everyone around him.
GREITENSSo Odysseus can talk to a stable boy, he can talk to the grieving wife of one of his soldiers, he can talk to a potential ally, he can talk to a potential enemy. And it's because of Odysseus' ability to speak with everyone that he is what Homer says is a true warrior who's able to actually create peace. And so I actually think that being able to communicate in that way is essential.
PAGEAll right, Don, thanks for your call. Here's an e-mail from Lloyd who writes us from North Carolina. He says, "When you were in the military, did you always agree with the missions assigned to you as a humanitarian?"
GREITENSSo, you know, Lloyd, one of the things that you learn in the military and especially in Special Operations was that I actually had tremendous flexibility. So we would be sent, for example, to Southeast Asia or we would be sent to Kenya and as the commander of small units, I was often given tremendous flexibility to make, you know, my own decisions about what needed to be done in a particular instance.
GREITENSI -- you know, I write in the book, for example, in Kenya, one of the things that I disagreed with was that we weren't allowed to buy food from some of the local vendors. And it just made it incredibly difficult to build relationships because a lot of the local people would see us driving through their villages, oftentimes at high speed with our sunglasses on and rifles in our laps, and of course that created distance between us.
GREITENSWhat I did with my team is that we actually decided one day we used our own money, we got in our trucks, we drove down to the village and we stepped outside and we bought fruit. It was a really simple act, but by actually doing that and engaging with some of the local population, they got to know us better and we were able to build some relationships there. So absolutely, you know, it's a big bureaucracy. Sometimes rules come down that you don't agree with, but you find a way to do the right thing.
PAGEWhat's the reasoning behind the rule of not buying from local vendors?
GREITENSWell, the Department of Defense has a system of approved suppliers. So you can imagine what that's like, to become an approved supplier to the Department of Defense, you have to actually go through all of this different kinds of paperwork and so that's part of the reason, is that there's not a quality control around that. But you often find at the ground level, you know, you find people like the chief who I was working with and others who actually find ways to work in those systems so that you can actually create those -- create those relationships.
GREITENSSometimes the military is really concerned about force protection and they want to -- and sometimes what happens is they end up separating troops from the local people when what we actually need to do is find ways to engage, build relationships and friendships where possible.
PAGELet's talk to Jeno, she's calling us from Salt Lake City, Utah. Jeno, hi.
JENOHello, how you doing?
JENOThe -- I've done some humanitarian work in Africa and South America and they -- you were always so well received as a humanitarian. The -- because everybody thinks everybody's after a handout and everybody really appreciates a hand up and helping these people to better their condition and situation. I've done work inside of other humanitarian groups with microenterprise and microfinance projects and I've had such a huge impact on those people and in those villages and it ripples out. It's just a -- you know, it's just a great, you know, bang for your buck, you know, investment in these people.
PAGEYeah, and Jeno, where in Africa have you worked?
JENOI was in Ethiopia when we were doing work and the poverty there was extreme. Where we were actually working, the average income was about $25 a year, which was quite easy to impact that positively. And I've just done work inside of other multiple nonprofits. My project we just called So Much Hope. We take old sewing machines, remove the motors, replace them with hand crank drives and then we place them in villages for microenterprise projects.
JENOAnd so they can just start generating funds for themselves and to better their own condition and situation and I've -- and anyway I can help you, Eric, with your project, I would be more than happy to help you out also. That's just kind of what we do with our project.
PAGEAll right, Jeno. Thanks very much for your call. You know, one of the interesting things, Eric, when you were writing about humanitarian projects, you had been involved with is contrasting the sense of hope you found sometimes with refugees in quite desperate situations.
PAGEAnd contrasted that with the slum where you worked with young people. Was it in Brazil?
GREITENSIn Santa Cruz, Bolivia, yes.
PAGEIn Bolivia, yes, where there seemed to be much less sense of hope than with the refugees. Why the difference, do you think?
GREITENSYou know, so one of the things that happened in the refugee camps was that people had suffered terribly and their families had lived through great tragedy, and yet, they were all struggling at that moment to rebuild their families, they were trying to rebuild their communities and they had a vision of what their life had been like before and of what it might be in the future.
GREITENSOne of the things that was really hard for me was to see in places like Santa Cruz, Bolivia, where there are hundreds of children who live on the streets, they spend their days begging, selling gum and cigarettes, shining shoes and many of them are actually addicted to glue, a really cheap drug that they sell on the streets and a lot of those kids had been born into this incredibly difficult situation and they really had no model, they had no vision for what they or their lives might become.
GREITENSAnd so it was a really difficult situation to feel hopeful in with all of those kids who were addicted to glue. At the same time, like you said and like Jeno talked about, there are so many places where humanitarians are able to make an incredible difference and we have to try and focus our energy in those places where we know we can step in and make a really positive difference.
PAGELet's talk to Don calling us from Pensacola, Fla. Don, thanks for holding on.
DONYeah, glad to. My question for your guest is I'm currently a naval officer, navy pilot. I've deployed to the Horn of Africa, Iraq, the Persian Gulf and one of the things I noticed is that among my troops and among my peers, an almost an overriding sense of cynicism with respect to the local population, which I tried to keep a very open mind toward, but it just seemed overwhelming. And how do you, in both your personal life and in the units you've served with, how did you combat that sense of cynicism that toward the local populations?
PAGEDon, thanks for your call and thank you also for your service.
GREITENSDon, I think it's incredibly important, as you know, that we find solid ways to build relationships and to build allies. And whether that's in Iraq, Afghanistan, Southeast Asia, the Horn of Africa, we can only be most successful when we've built really solid allies. I think many times what that cynicism comes from can be a couple of things. One, is that sometimes we haven't created ways for our troops to actually really get to know some of the members of the local population or even local military forces at a personal level.
GREITENSI think the more you actually know and can empathize and understand with the situation that somebody's coming from, the stronger those relationships can be. I also think it can be very difficult when you get dictates that come on high -- from on high come down to you, Don, and to your troops about, you know, ways that you're supposed to interact that actually can impede building those quality relationships.
GREITENSSo what I always try and do is figure out ways to introduce people who I'm working with to members of the local population so that they really get to build that solid understanding. And from that solid understanding, if you can then turn that into some kind of shared work, together, everybody becomes stronger.
PAGEDon, thanks so much for your call. I'm Susan Page and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." So tell us, what was your most difficult assignment, do you think?
GREITENSWell, I think that for me, the most difficult humanitarian place that I went was to Santa Cruz, Bolivia. And that was difficult for the reasons that we talked about is that here I was, I was working with these kids and I really wanted to be incredibly hopeful for them, but for a lot of the kids who I saw on the streets of Santa Cruz, Bolivia was just really difficult to both be honest about their situation and to see a way forward for them.
GREITENSAt the same time, there was this incredible couple, Jason and Caroline Bernhardt-Lanier, who were running this home called Mano Amiga in Santa Cruz, Bolivia and they were really saving the lives of a lot of children of the street. So for me, it was that contrast and seeing a lot of those kids was probably the hardest humanitarian assignment.
PAGEAnd how about military assignment?
GREITENSYou know, I think for me, one of the most difficult military assignments probably -- certainly one of the most difficult moments was that time in Iraq when, you know, my team was hit by the suicide truck bomb. I felt very fortunate, again, that I -- my injuries were minor, I was treated at the Fallujah Surgical hospital, I was able to return to duty quickly, but after something like that happens, you start to wonder, you know, what else could we have done differently?
GREITENSShould we have checked the coms one more time, should we have built more earthen barriers before we went to sleep, should we have, you know, checked our security one last time. And you start to question yourself and you start to ask, you know, why is it that I was so lucky and my friends were hurt much worse than I was?
PAGEHere's an e-mail from Paul. He writes, "I am a civilian and I don't plan on entering the military, however, like many people, I feel very anxious for the welfare of the soldiers who serve us and was shocked by how many of them suffer upon returning home. I feel a responsibility for the people who fought for me. As a civilian, how can I get involved?" And we have another caller, Kim, from Massachusetts that asked, "How can I get involved with The Mission Continues as a citizen in my area?"
GREITENSSo for Paul and for Kim, one of the best things that you can do is you can go to Missioncontinues.org and at Missioncontinues.org, there are a number of different ways for people to get involved. Certainly you can make a donation to support the work that we do with our veterans, you can sign up to volunteer with us on one of our volunteer projects. We're going to have volunteer projects all across the country from September 11 to Veteran's Day.
GREITENSGet involved in our service campaign this fall. There's also a way to take a Mission Continues challenge. It's something we've set up for all Americans to go out, spend 10 minutes learning about the issues facing wounded and disabled veterans, make a donation of $10 and then find a way to tell 10 friends about what you've learned. And you can also e-mail the staff at The Mission Continues and we'll find a way to get you involved.
PAGEEric Greitens, author of "The Heart and the Fist" and founder of The Mission Continues, thanks so much for being with us on this hour of "The Diane Rehm Show."
GREITENSSusan, it's my pleasure.
PAGEI'm Susan Page of USA Today, sitting in for Diane Rehm. She's on vacation. Thanks for listening.
ANNOUNCER"The Diane Rehm Show" is produced Sandra Pinkard, Nancy Robertson, Susan Nabors, Denise Couture, Monique Nazareth, Sarah Ashworth, Lisa Dunn and Nikki Jecks. The engineer is Tobey Schreiner. A.C. Valdez answers the phones. Visit drshow.org for audio archives, transcripts, podcasts and CD sales. Call 202-885-1200 for more information.
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