Former Navy SEAL addresses crowd at Town Hall South

Published Nov 7, 2013 at 10:20 am (Updated Nov 7, 2013 at 10:20 am)

Few speakers during the Town Hall South lecture series receive a spontaneous standing ovation. Eric Greitens, photographer, author, founder of The Mission Continues and a former U.S. Navy SEAL, joined the elite group on Nov. 5, following his emotional speech in the auditorium of the Upper St. Clair High School.

No one left the one-hour lecture, there was no noise, not even a sneeze, as Greitens spoke of his SEAL training, his escape with minor wounds when his barracks in Iraq was destroyed by a truck bomb, or his current work helping returning wounded veterans gain the confidence to move on with their lives.

Greitens graduated from Duke University and attended the University of Oxford in England as a Rhodes and Truman Scholar. He earned masters and doctorate degrees before joining the Navy.

On his return from Iraq, where he served four tours, he founded The Mission Continues, and currently serves as its chief executive officer. The Mission challenges veterans to serve friends, family and communities after their military service ends.

One of the former servicemen with head trauma trains service dogs for others who were wounded, including his father, an amputee from the Vietnam War. Yet another, U.S. Army Major Anthony Smith, lost a portion of his right arm, lost his right kidney, sight in his right eye, his right hip and a portion of his right foot when his vehicle struck an improvised explosive device. Smith, a police chief in a southern town and a member of the Army Reserves, could not return to his former employment. Through The Mission Continues, Smith opened a karate school and teaches underprivileged children not only martial arts, but life values.

During war, men and women in the military forge friendships, face fear and call on their inner strength to survive on the front lines. But front lines occur in everyday life to everyone, when they must face fear and hardships.

“You have to find a way to navigate front lines,” Greitens said, adding most use a mental compass to walk through life. But when that path is disrupted, the compass must be readjusted, if only a few degrees, to walk a new path.

“That’s an easy thing to say and an incredible thing to do,” he told the audience.

Those facing a new path must confront their fears and work through the pain to achieve new wisdom and strength.

“Change is possible in all kinds of ways,” Greitens said. And that applies to the wounded veterans who worry about physical therapy and how they will support their families financially. Some veterans, and others facing change, can be overwhelmed by the how and must focus on why they need to change.

He spoke of the hardships getting through the difficult SEAL training. In his class, more than 220 began but only 21 finished. Most, he said, quit in the final week, known as Hell Week.

“They quit at the hardest moment of the hardest week of the hardest training. They quit,” Greitens said. “They started to think of how hard it was and that’s when people quit.”

Through The Mission Continues, he said veterans, who have trained to be part of a team, are concerned they are no longer a part of any team. Through the commitment to helping others and their communities, the returning military men and women join another team of service.

“Courage is not a moment of bravery,” Greitens told the audience. Courage, he said, is when one develops self and there is change.

The average age in the military currently is 21. Those in the military are being wounded younger and face uncertain futures. His organization assists those to re-purpose their lives. Many, he said, turn to coaching, become teachers or train as police officers to serve others.

“What they all need to hear is ‘we still need you. You are an asset, not a problem,’” Greitens said.

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