His Mission Continues
Eric served as Lieutenant in the United States Navy from 2001 to 2006 and successfully completed rigorous SEAL training. After being deployed to Afghanistan, Southeast Asia, Iraq, and the Horn of Africa, Eric had seen enough violence to surmise that in order for justice to prevail, he must be both courageous and compassionate. As a Navy SEAL, he was subjected to the toughest military training in the world. But way before he became a soldier, he has already done humanitarian work in college. It went on until he became a graduate student at Oxford. He worked as a humanitarian volunteer, documentary photographer, and researcher in Rwanda, Cambodia, Albania, Mexico, India, Bosnia, and Bolivia.
Going from one poor country to another opened Eric’s eyes to the harsh reality that force is needed in order to sustain lives and protect the weak. By the time he completed his doctorate degree in Ethics, Eric has made up his mind about enlisting in the Navy where he served as Lieutenant for the next five years. There he met people like him who had a genuine desire to serve their country. They fought as brothers and stuck together no matter what. In his six years in the naval service, he’s lost comrades to battle and seen some become wounded to disability.
Being in the war zone with fellow soldiers whose life was derailed due to injuries inflicted by the war, he felt compelled to do something to help them find meaning in their existence. The only thing his wounded brothers want was to go back serving their country. Their disability, however, makes them unfit to rejoin their unit. Eric used his own combat pay and two friends’ disability funds to establish The Mission Continues, an organization that guides post Afghanistan veterans in finding meaning in their existence by being agents of change and inspiration to others.
Early Life and Education
Eric Robert Greitens was born in 10 April 1974 to Becky and Robert Greitens. He spent his childhood in Missouri and was raised by his parents in Jewish beliefs. As a child, Eric was often told that the key to success is completing his college degree. Becky Greitens is an early childhood teacher and she used her expertise in rearing her son. Eric grew up as a smart boy with a lot of promise. He’s a very curious kid and had his fair share of mischief. Whenever he did something that his parents did not approve of, he always asked if he’d still be allowed to go to college.
As a young boy, he already had that desire to succeed in life and being told by grown-ups that the “ticket” to that is education, he knew that he has to do well in school. Good thing he loves to read. A voracious reader, Eric loved stories of heroism and battles. He wrote:
“I loved history, and I liked to imagine myself as part of it. But this rich view of the world also left me wondering where I fit in. My big fear was that God and my parents had made a terrible mistake and that I'd been born in the wrong era, that the time for adventures had passed. I sat in the St. Louis public library and read stories of people discovering ancient cities and settling wild frontiers. I read about warriors, explorers, and activists, and then I'd stare out the window at a world that seemed very small and very safe.” (Source: The Huffington Post)
Eric attended Parkway North High School and excelled in academics. But unlike kids of his age, Eric developed an early liking in humanitarian work. As a teenager, he saw his parents’ involvement in civic work having an accountant father who was a baseball coach and a Cub Scout leader, and a mother who was an active member of the PTA. Aside from his parents, Eric was also fortunate to have a teacher who took the risk of bringing his class to a homeless shelter to experience how it’s like to live as a vagabond. That was Eric’s earliest recollection of becoming socially aware about the plight of others.
Eric attended Duke University where he became a recipient of the Angier B. Duke Scholarship grant. At Duke, he had a professor named Neil Boothby who enlisted his assistance in helping kids in Bosnia cope with losing their parents. Then the following year, he headed to Bolivia where he worked in a shelter for street children called Mano Amiga and was inspired by the husband-and-wife tandem of Jason and Caroline Bernhardt-Lanier who manage the home. That experience led Eric to do more humanitarian work in the future. He completed his degree in ethics, philosophy, and public policy from Duke University and graduated summa cum laude in 1996.
He then went to Oxford for his master’s and became a Rhodes and a Truman scholar. He completed his MA in Development Studies in 1998 and proceeded to secure a doctorate degree in 2000. While at Oxford, Eric still found time to do social work. He went to India and worked in one of Mother Theresa’s homes for those with terminal illnesses. After that, he flew to Cambodia as part of a non-government organization that provides prosthetics to children who were victims of landmines and polio.
In Oxford, he was also a renowned boxer. He won two Oxford Boxing Blues and the Gold Medal at the BUSA National Championships.
Joining the Navy
After completing his doctorate studies, Eric had three options. One is to teach at Oxford, the other is to become a consultant, and the last one is to sign up in the United States Navy. He chose the third option mainly because it’s the best way for him to have a career while being of service to others. He would always cite in his interviews that a refugee once expressed gratitude to him for the material assistance they were giving as an NGO. But what touched him was what the refugee said next—that if they really cared about them, they would be willing to protect them.
It struck a chord in him and reverberated throughout his journey. He knew that he has to respond to his calling. Fortunately, his parents were very supportive of his decision to enlist in the navy. As much as they love Eric and wanted him to be away from harm, they couldn’t keep him from doing something that he’s been inclined to do—serving.
In 2001, he attended Naval Officer Candidate School and was the oldest in their class at 26 years old. The following year, he was one of the few who completed Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL (BUD/S). Asked about the training of this elite military group, Eric related what they had to go through to be prepared for battle physically, mentally, and emotionally:
"So to make it through Navy SEAL training, it's often referred to as BUDS. It stands for basic underwater demolition SEAL training, considered the hardest military training in the world. And they ask you to do a number of difficult things in that training.
So for example in your very first week they'll ask you to swim 50 metres underwater. Later they ask you to swim down 50 feet, tie a knot and come back up.
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 have to then jump in the pool and swim 50 meters.
So lots of difficult small things like that that you're asked to do. But really it's a grueling six month process of punishing runs in soft sand, swims in the ocean, races in the ocean in small rubber boats that often teams have to land on jagged rocks in the middle of the night.
And the culminating or at least the pinnacle piece that is considered the hardest week of the hardest military training in the world is a week that's called hell week.
And over the course of hell week most classes only sleep from two to five hours over the course of an incredibly intense week of military training where people are pushed to their mental, physical and emotional limit." (Source: ABC.net)
No matter how hard the training was, Eric persevered because he had the genuine desire to serve. The training is not about oneself but about loyalty to the country and to those who are fighting alongside fellow soldiers. Eric learned a whole lot from his SEALs training. It developed his decision-making and leadership skills. After that, Eric found thinking strategically second nature to him.
He served as Lieutenant in the United States Navy for five years and was deployed four times. He was the Commander of a Mark V Detachment that led two Special Operations Craft and 20 men during operations to track down terrorists. In Afghanistan, he supported Operation Enduring Freedom, an initiative that aims to capture terrorist leaders. He was also assigned as the Task Unit Commander for all Naval Special Warfare Boat Forces in CENTCOM. He’s been sent to Southeast Asia, Afghanistan, Iraq, and the Horn of Africa.
Founding The Mission Continues
In 2007, Eric became a United States Navy Reserve. Although no longer “actively” serving in the navy, he wanted to continue serving the community. Asked what led to the founding of The Mission Continues, Eric explained:
"When I was in Bosnia in 1994, I saw survivors of the ethnic cleansing. So often what I saw in the camps were the parents and the grandparents who had really young kids. They knew they had to wake up every day to be strong for someone. The people who weren’t doing well were people my own age, late teens and early 20s, who felt their lives had been cut short and they didn’t have anyone counting on them. I noticed here in the United States that there was no organization challenging veterans, telling them “You still have a purpose here. We need you to continue to serve.” That was the genesis of The Mission Continues." (Source: St. Louis Jewish Light)
Serving as a White House Fellow
From 2005 to 2006, Eric became part of the Department of Housing and Urban Development's The Universities Rebuilding America Partnership as a White House Fellow appointed by then President George W. Bush. It was put together in order to release grants to colleges and universities that wish to help in the rebuilding reconstruction efforts of communities devastated by hurricanes. As a White House Fellow, Erics' policy-making skills were honed.
Eric Gets Married
In 2011, Eric married an achiever like him, Sheena Elise Chestnut. She’s the daughter of two doctors and a successful career woman in her own right. Currently, she is a fellow at the United States Institute of Peace—a research institute in Washington—and the Miller Center of Public Affairs at the University of Virginia. Sheena also has a heart of service like her husband.
Author of Bestselling Books and an Eloquent Speaker
Besides physiological aptitude, Eric has an artistic side. He writes and takes pictures. In fact his photographs were featured in the publication, Community Strategies for Healing. The book “Strength and Compassion” is actually a compilation of photographs and essays taken and written by him. It became ForeWord Magazine’s Photography Book of the Year.
The second book that he wrote, "The Heart and the Fist: The Education of a Humanitarian, the Making of a Navy SEAL," became a New York Times bestseller while his third, “The Warrior’s Heart,” was recognized as one of the Best Teen Books by Barnes & Noble and Kirkus Reviews.
Eric’s expertise in combat and glowing academic profile earned him slots in teaching. He taught at the University of Missouri in Columbia and at Washington University in St. Louis. In 2008, he served as Grand Marshall and keynote speaker at the Veterans Day Parade.
He was named the Navy Reserve Junior Line Officer of the Year by the Association of the United States Navy in 2011 and took home the Charles Bronfman Prize the following year. Prior to that, he was awarded the President's Volunteer Service Award by President George W. Bush. His latest accomplishment was being hailed by TIME Magazine as one of the 100 Most Influential People in the World of the year 2013.
Asked what’s the best thing about devoting his life to service, he has the following to say:
“Working in that kind of environment helps to keep the important things in perspective and helps to fundamentally orient you towards what is truly valuable when you have to make decisions about using the limited time that we have on earth wisely.” (Source: Practical Idealists)
Organizations and Programmes Supported
- The Mission Continues
- UDT SEAL Connect
- US Navy
- Harry S. Truman School of Public Affairs at the University of Missouri
- Olin School of Business at Washington University
Awards and Achievements
- 1992-1996: Attended Duke University as an Angier B. Duke Scholar
- 1996: Graduated Summa cum Laude from Duke University
- 1995: Named a member of the USA Today All-USA Academic Team
- 1996-2000: Attended the University of Oxford as a Rhodes and a Truman Scholar
- 1998: Completed his master's in Development Studies from the University of Oxford
- 2000: Completed his doctorate degree in Politics from the University of Oxford
- 2001: Attended Naval Officer Candidate School
- 2001-2006: Served as Lieutenant in the United States Navy
- 2002: Completed Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL (BUD/S)
- 2005-2006: Appointed by the President to serve as a White House Fellow
- 2007: Donated his pay fund to The Mission Continues
- 2007: Founded The Mission Continues
- 2007: Won the Shamrock Marathon at Camp Fallujah, Iraq
- 2007-Present: United States Navy Reserve
- 2008: Released Strength & Compassion
- 2008: Awarded the President's Volunteer Service Award by President George W. Bush
- 2008: Served as Grand Marshall and keynote speaker at the Veterans Day Parade
- 2009: Strength & Compassion won the Grand Prize in the New York Book Festival
- 2009: Received the HOOAH Award
- 2009: Awarded “Reader of the Year” by Outside Magazine
- 2011: Named the Navy Reserve Junior Line Officer of the Year by the Association of the United States Navy
- 2011: Released "The Heart and the Fist: The Education of a Humanitarian, the Making of a Navy SEAL"
- 2012: Received the Charles Bronfman Prize
- 2012: Released "The Warrior’s Heart"
- 2012: The Warrior’s Heart was recognized as one of the Best Teen Books by Barnes & Noble and Kirkus Reviews
- 2013: Named One of TIME 100 Most Influential People
- Worked as a humanitarian volunteer, documentary photographer, and researcher in Rwanda, Cambodia, Albania, Mexico, India, Bosnia, and Bolivia
- Deployed four times during the Global War on Terrorism to Afghanistan, Southeast Asia, the Horn of Africa, and Iraq
- "The Heart and the Fist: The Education of a Humanitarian, the Making of a Navy SEAL" became a bestseller
- Awarded the Combat Action Ribbon, the Purple Heart, and the Bronze Star
- His collection of photographs and essays, Strength & Compassion, was recognized as ForeWord Magazine’s Photography Book of the Year
- Photographs were featured in the publication, Community Strategies for Healing
- Senior Fellow at the Harry S. Truman School of Public Affairs at the University of Missouri
- Taught classes at both the University of Missouri in Columbia and at Washington University in St. Louis
- Served as the Commander of a Joint Special Operations Task Unit, Commander of a Mark V Special Operations Craft Detachment, and as Commander of an al Qaeda Targeting Cell
- Named Major League Baseball and PEOPLE Magazine “All-Star Among Us”
- Awarded National Conference on Citizenship citizen soldier of the year
- Won two Oxford Boxing Blues and the Gold Medal at the BUSA National Championships
- Taekwondo Black Belt holder
- Recognized him as one of the five leading social entrepreneurs in America by the Manhattan Institute for Social Entrepreneurship Magazine
Received the following military awards:
- Bronze Star
- Purple Heart
- Navy Achievement Medal
- Joint Service Achievement Medal
- Navy Commendation Medal
- Joint Service Commendation Medal
- Combat Action Ribbon
- 2012: Awarded an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree from Tufts University
Time (The 2013 Time 100)
Facebook (Eric Greitens Fan page)
The Huffington Post (Eric Greitens: Adventure Awaits)
Wikipedia (Eric Greitens)
The New York Times (Sheena Chestnut and Eric Greitens Wedding)
St. Louis Jewish Light (St. Louisan wins national humanitarian award)
ABC.net (Sunday Profile: Lieutenant Commander US Navy SEAL Eric Greitens)
Practical Idealists (Interview with Eric Greitens)
Today (A Navy SEAL recounts a story of combat and compassion)
The Mission Continues (Founding Story)
Los Angeles Times (Program aims to provide meaning, structure for military veterans)
TrekMovie.com (Star Trek Into Darkness Dedicated To Post-9/11 Vets – Four Vets From Mission Continues Featured In Film)
YouTube (Eric Greitens - North High 1992)
LinkedIn (Eric Greitens)