Former Navy SEAL and author Eric Greitens shared wisdom of life through service

His books are based on his experiences as a Navy SEAL, a humanitarian in refugee camps and a friend to a recovering alcoholic.

Eric Greitens, ex-Navy SEAL, Purple Heart recipient, decorated boxer, best-selling author and renowned humanitarian gave the keynote address at the Truman School of Public Affairs’ Public Service Recognition Week.

At the core of Greitens’ speech was that service can make everyone stronger and better citizens and people.

Greitens’ dedication to service began in his youth. As a college student, Greitens served communities around the world. He worked in Bosnian refugee camps chronicling life through photography. He saw that though the families he encountered had lost everything, he often noticed the morale was high of those who were looking after children.

Greitens said one of the foundations of great leadership is humility. In a story about Rwandan genocide survivors, Greitens spoke of the inspiring people he met in Africa. One man was asked by a friend to entertain local children, and Greitens saw how this impacted his life positively.

“The fact that his friend had asked him to serve had helped him to survive,” Greitens said.

This assertion that service can be a salvation fuels many aspects of Greitens’ life. After completing SEAL training and serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, Greitens returned to the U.S. and founded The Mission Continues, a program that aims to serve veterans by putting them in situations where they may serve others.

MU student Clayton Boessen, a veteran of five years in the Army 101st Airborne Division, heard of Greitens through a friend who was a part of The Mission Continues. His friend began a branch in Columbia. Boessen started serving the community through partnerships with Veterans United and other programs.

In March, the Columbia chapter of The Mission Continues gave back to veterans.

“We helped with demolition of some buildings that will remodeled into shelters for homeless veterans,” Boessen said. “(Greitens) had really good points, especially in the beginning when he said to start out small.”

Another story Greitens shared is about his friend and fellow SEAL, Zach Walker. After returning home from deployment, Walker found himself unemployed, on disability benefits and reeling from the loss of a brother. He also had post-traumatic stress disorder.

Walker turned to alcoholic and was arrested one evening. That night, Greitens began writing to Walker in what would eventually become the basis for his newest book, “Resilience: Hard Won Wisdom for Leading a Better Life.”

“I started writing a letter to Zach about resilience, how you deal with pain and create wisdom, with fear and build courage, about how you move through suffering and create strength,” Greitens said.

After 23 more letters full of aphorisms, the book was born.

Through exchanging correspondence, Greitens assembled advice for Walker that’s applicable to everyone. He lays out several virtues he’s discovered in various ways throughout his life.

When Walker claimed to have lost his purpose in life, Greitens asserted that it can’t be lost.

“Purpose isn’t something you find, it’s something you forge,” Greitens said.

He encouraged his friend to take steps toward the life he wanted. For Walker, this meant coaching a local baseball team and serving his church.

“Great changes come when we make small adjustments with great conviction,” Greitens said.

Greiten’s past experience with the Navy SEALS, on active duty and working with some of the most impoverished nations in the world, hasn’t made him pessimistic. Instead, he has taken what he learned and found a way to help people, he said.

He’s written several other books including the New York Times bestseller “The Heart and the Fist: The Education of a Humanitarian, the Making of a Navy SEAL.” His book of photographs from his work with refugees is titled “Strength and Compassion.”

Greiten has been mentioned as a potential candidate in the 2016 Missouri gubernatorial race, but his talk this evening was strictly one of humanity, not politics.

“My best piece of advice is to always remember the people you’re serving,” Greitens said. “Focus on them and serve with compassion, strength and trust. If you do all of that and you also remember to focus on creating real results for people then you can make a real difference.”

Junior Leanne Beasley found Greiten’s subject of resilience applicable to her life.

“He’s a great speaker,” Beasley said. “As undergraduate students, I think we need to focus more on how we can serve others and get the most out of our college experience.”

Greitens echoed the need for community service as an adolescent.

“Absolutely find a way to serve when you’re in college,” Greitens said. “Whether that’s just going to volunteer once a week with a kid who needs your help in a local school or volunteering at a Boys and Girls club or Habitat for Humanity, what serving in a community will do is help you figure out your own and doing that will provide a lot of energy.”

Greitens believes service helps provide people with a sense of purpose and direction.

“There is a world outside the campus and you can make a difference,” Greitens said.

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