Eric Greitens, the founder of an organization challenging veterans to build lives of purpose, strengthening individuals and communities while changing the national conversation about returning service members, is the 2012 recipient of The Charles Bronfman Prize. The prize recognizes ”young innovators whose Jewish values infuse their humanitarian accomplishments, providing inspiration for generations to come.”
It’s hard not to be thoroughly impressed by Eric’s accomplishments. His resume reads like something out of a movie script:
Born and raised in Missouri, Greitens attended Duke University, where he studied ethics, philosophy and public policy. A Rhodes and Truman Scholar, he attended the University of Oxford, earning a master’s degree in Development Studies in 1998 and a Ph.D. in Politics in 2000. Greitens wrote The Heart and the Fist, a New York Times bestselling book published last year describing his experiences, and Strength and Compassion, a prize-winning collection of photographs from his humanitarian work overseas and essays on compassion, courage, dignity and faith.
However, as this award highlights, it’s not what he has done for himself that is so amazing, but what he does for others. Greitens, founded the St. Louis-based organization The Mission Continues in 2007, inspired by his humanitarian aid work in the most impoverished and unstable corners of the globe and as a Navy SEAL on the front line in the battle against terrorism.
Greitens stresses that The Mission Continues does not offer charity; rather, it challenges returning service members to utilize their tremendous skills and leadership to continue serving our country at home. Specifically, his organization awards community service fellowships to post-9/11 veterans.
The Fellows serve for six months at a local nonprofit organization addressing key educational, environmental or social issues. Each Fellow works to achieve one of three outcomes at the conclusion of the fellowship: full-time employment, pursuit of higher education or a permanent role of service. At the culmination of the fellowship, each Fellow will lead a service project in his/her community, bringing veterans and civilians together in days of service nationwide. These projects are bridging the military-civilian divide, allowing veterans to feel more connected to their communities and helping civilians gain a better understanding of and appreciation for our men and women in uniform.
Greitens has devoted his life to service – as a humanitarian volunteer in Rwanda and Bosnia during periods of genocide and war and as a United States Navy SEAL deployed to Iraq, Afghanistan, the Horn of Africa and Southeast Asia during the global war on terror.
These experiences, combined with his deeply held Jewish values, inspired him to seek ways to drive positive change, Greitens said. He credits a Sunday school teacher in his youth who took him to a homeless shelter in St. Louis to expose him to other’s challenges, and asked Eric what he might do to help.
“All of us can play a role in repairing the world. I think about tikkun olam, and how we can use our limited time to be of service. I think we must dedicate and devote our days to making a difference in the lives of others, and to create a better, more just and more loving world in the spirit of gemilut hasadim.”