‘Everyone Has a Front Line’
Veteran, Author Talks with Cadets about Leadership and Service in the Face of Adversity
LEXINGTON, Va., Oct. 3, 2013 – More than 100 cadets and local community members attended a talk and book signing last month by Eric Greitens, CEO of The Mission Continues and author of The Heart and the Fist: The Education of a Humanitarian, the Making of a Navy SEAL.
Greitens’ visit to VMI was sponsored by the VMI Center for Leadership and Ethic’s Leadership Book Program, and select members of the program joined Greitens for dinner in Crozet Hall before the talk.
Greitens’ unique experience as a Rhodes Scholar, humanitarian relief worker, and Navy SEAL resonated with the VMI audience.
“He epitomizes the Institute ideal of a well-educated, honorable, citizen-soldier,” noted Col. David Miller, the center’s interim director.
Deployed three times during the war on terror, Greitens used his combat pay from a deployment to Iraq to start The Mission Continues in 2007. The organization challenges veterans who served after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, to give back to their communities.
“One of the things that I’ve noticed in working with hundreds of veterans around the country is that when they come home they often face a new front line,” said Greitens. “When you start to reflect for a minute what you start to recognize is that everyone has a front line in their life.”
Describing the front line as the place where one comes in contact with hardship, pain, and suffering, Greitens challenged cadets to reflect on their own front lines and the front lines of those in their families and communities.
“We all have to deal with the front line in our life. It’s also the case that the way that we serve, the way that we lead, the way that we react to those things on the front line will determine who we will be and whether or not we achieve a victory in our own lives.”
By offering veterans fellowships requiring 20 hours of service per week for 26 weeks at local nonprofit organizations, as well as group community service projects with which to become involved, The Mission Continues provides opportunities for them to explore new areas of interest and use their skills to serve others in a new way.
It can be frightening, Greitens noted, for veterans to have to adjust their lives in new ways when they return from a deployment, but he has found that asking them to think back on their first few weeks in the military helps them remember that they have already made a large lifestyle change at least once before.
“We remind them that they are absolutely capable of doing this again here at home.”
For Philip Pryor ’14, Leadership Book Program cadet in charge, this emphasis on serving veterans by helping them serve was the most thought-provoking part of Greitens’ presentation.
“Rather than to simply help out monetarily with wounded veterans returning from overseas, [The Mission Continues] instead challenges them to continue to serve their community in a number of ways,” said Pryor. “I myself had never really thought about how veterans need more than just money, but also the support of their local communities as well.”
Nathan Webster ’15, assistant CIC, viewed the visit and presentation as another success for the Leadership Book Program, which is open to all cadets, faculty, and staff.
“Reading is a common trait among the most influential leaders,” noted Webster. “Harry Truman, thirty-third president of the United States, claimed that ‘not all readers are leaders, but all leaders are readers.’"
–Capt. Beth Stefanik, Center for Leadership and Ethics