Eric was a U.S. Navy SEAL hunting suspected al-Qaeda terrorists in Ramadi, Iraq. When he and his team blew through a door during a raid, he was introduced to a dilemma that would likely define him forever. Yet there was no time to consider his options, he had to trust his instincts. At one end of the room was the suspected al-Qaeda terrorist, while lying on the floor was a sleeping Iraqi infant.
Eric’s instincts were developed through extensive and often torturous Navy Seal Training. He was one of the only 21 Navy SEALs graduates out of his class that began with 220. The graduates that survived were not the weight-lifters, those covered with tattooed, or the successful athletes who have been told they are stars. They may have been the most unlikely candidates who “puked on runs”, had trouble with pull-ups and were visibly afraid in many situations.
According to Eric, almost all of the SEALs that made it had one common quality. “Even in great pain, faced with the test of their lives, they had the ability to step-outside their own pain, put aside their own fear and ask: How can I help the guy next to me? They had more than the ‘fist’ of courage and physical strength. They also had a ‘heart’ large enough to think about others, to dedicate themselves to a higher purpose.”
When a suicide truck bomb in Fallujah, Iraq, hit Eric’s unit, he received minor injuries but it seriously wounded many of his friends. When Eric visited wounded Marines at Bethesda Naval Hospital in Maryland, he was surprised by what he learned. Without exception, each Marine expressed an unwavering desire to continue serving his country, even if they could no longer do so in the military. One young Marine even said, “I lost my legs – that is all. I did not lose my desire to serve, or my pride in being an American.”
Inspired, Eric used his own combat pay and two friends pitched in their military disability checks to start the organization The Mission Continues. The successful mission of the organization is to empower post-9/11 veterans to transform their own lives by serving others and to directly impact their communities. It offers six month fellowships at local nonprofit organizations that address key educational, environmental or social issues. It also matches each fellow with a mentor who assists the veteran in developing his or her professional and educational goals.
To successfully achieve a dream or big idea, you must understand the beneficiaries and their problems or unmet needs. Eric not only understood these post-9/11 veterans, he understood humanitarian organizations. Eric was Rhodes and a Truman Scholar who did his doctoral thesis on addressing the needs of war-torn children and served as a humanitarian volunteer in several countries. Eric was able to craft solutions through The Mission Continues that addressed the unmet needs of the both beneficiaries (veterans & humanitarian organizations).
The leadership message from Eric Greitens can be helpful to all of us. To be strong and have a big heart as he describes in his book, ‘The Heart and the Fist: the Education of a Humanitarian, the Making of a Navy SEAL’. For those with a dream or big idea, he shows us how to make almost anything happen. The Mission Continues has improved the lives of so many veterans and people who were in need humanitarian service provided by these veterans. The Mission Continues mentors help veterans improve their entire lives while experiencing the sense of purpose that may have been missing since sacrificing in service to their country.
Understanding the problems or unmet needs of the beneficiaries of a dream or big idea is essential. It can also provide the aspirer (like it did with Eric) direction and a sense of purpose to make almost anything happen.