Courtesy of The Greitens Group
Eric Greitens could have rested on his laurels.
He’d racked up a doctorate at Oxford University, where he studied on a Rhodes scholarship. He’d traveled to some of the world’s most war-torn and impoverished countries – Rwanda, Bosnia, Bolivia – to work as a humanitarian.
He had a job offer at a consulting firm that would have paid a comfortable salary.
Instead, he decided to become a Navy SEAL, undergoing what is generally considered the most brutal military training in the world.
“A good life,” Greitens wrote in a book about his experiences called The Heart and the Fist, “a meaningful life, a life in which we can enjoy the world and live with purpose, can only be built if we do more than live for ourselves.”
Greitens’ book has been selected as this year’s Common Reading Experience at Fort Lewis College; all first-year students will receive a copy, and it will be incorporated into various classes.
After his decision to enlist, Greitens went on to finish in the small minority of candidates who successfully complete SEAL training and was sent on deployments to Afghanistan, Iraq, Southeast Asia and Kenya.
After completing his service, he saw that many of his fellow veterans were foundering and helping them became his new mission.
“I found plenty of organizations ready to give to veterans or to advocate for them, but no organizations that were ready to askof wounded veterans that they continue their service,” he wrote.
Using his combat pay and contributions, he founded The Mission Continues to offer fellowships to veterans to serve at nonprofit or public benefit organizations.
“As a community and as a country, we can be doing a much better job to successfully reintegrate these veterans,” he said in a phone interview. “And the way that I think we should do that is not by offering them more charity, but by giving them a challenge.”
Greitens’ work and his book have earned many accolades. In May, he received the prestigious Charles Bronfman Prize, which recognizes young humanitarians and comes with a $100,000 award. That same month, he appeared as a guest on the popular Comedy Central show “The Colbert Report.”
In typical fashion, Colbert ribbed Greitens about the name of his book.
“Is that how you take a man down, by punching him in the heart with your fist?” he asked.
Despite the high-profile attention, Greitens said he was “really humbled” by having FLC select his book for the Common Reading Experience, now in its sixth year.
Bridget Irish, who coordinates the program, said the decision was based on the book’s potential to spark meaningful discussion.
“We felt that the military is often a subject that is sort of like the elephant in the room. People skirt talking about it, particularly in the academic world,” she said.
The board that selected the book also was drawn to Greitens as the model of an effective and compassionate leader.
“Students will be inspired,” she said.
Greitens said his hope is “that through reading The Heart and the Fist everyone will get a sense for how they can make a difference in their own community and in their own lives.”