In an inspiring memoir from one of the world's most elite warriors, Eric Greitens recounts in remarkable detail his time as a Navy SEAL—from the most harrowing encounters and brutal attacks, to the lessons learned from his humanitarian efforts.
THE HEART AND THE FIST shares one man’s story of extraordinary leadership and service as both a humanitarian and a warrior. In a life lived at the raw edges of the human experience, Greitens has seen what can be accomplished when compassion and courage come together in meaningful service.
As a Rhodes Scholar and Navy SEAL, Greitens worked alongside volunteers who taught art to street children in Bolivia and led US Marines who hunted terrorists in Iraq. He’s learned from nuns who fed the destitute in one of Mother Teresa’s homes for the dying in India, from aid workers who healed orphaned children in Rwanda, and from Navy SEALs who fought in Afghanistan. He excelled at the hardest military training in the world, and today he works with severely wounded and disabled veterans who are rebuilding their lives as community leaders at home.
Greitens offers each of us a new way of thinking about living a meaningful life. We learn that to win any war, even those we wage against ourselves; to create and obtain lasting peace; to save a life; and even, simply to live with purpose requires us—every one of us—to be both good and strong.
THE FIRST MORTAR round landed as the sun was rising.
Joel and I both had bottom bunks along the western wall of the barracks. As we swung our feet onto the floor, Joel said, “They better know, they wake my ass up like this, it’s gonna put me in a pretty uncharitable mood.” Mortars were common, and one explosion in the morning amounted to little more than an unpleasant alarm.
As we began to tug on our boots, another round exploded outside, but the dull whomp of its impact meant that it had landed dozens of yards away. The insurgent mortars were usually wild, inaccurate, one-time shots. Then another round landed—closer. The final round shook the walls of the barracks and the sounds of gunfire began to rip.
I have no memory of when the suicide truck bomb detonated. Lights went out. Dust and smoke filled the air. I found myself lying belly-down on the floor, legs crossed, hands over my ears with my mouth wide open. My SEAL instructors had taught me to take this position during incoming artillery fire. They learned it from men who passed down the knowledge from the Underwater Demolition Teams that had cleared the beaches at Normandy.
SEAL training . . . One sharp blast of the whistle and we’d drop to the mud with our hands over our ears, our feet crossed. Two whistles and we’d begin to crawl. Three whistles and we’d push to our feet and run. Whistle, drop, whistle, crawl, whistle, up and run; whistle, drop, whistle, crawl, whistle, up and run. By the end of training, the instructors were throwing smoke and flashbang grenades. Crawling through the mud, enveloped in an acrid haze—red smoke, purple smoke, orange smoke—we could just make out the boots and legs of the man in front of us, barbed wire inches above our heads . . .
In the barracks, I heard men coughing around me, the air thick with dust. Then the burning started. It felt as if someone had shoved an open-flame lighter inside my mouth, the flames scorching my throat, my lungs. My eyes burned and I squinted them shut, then fought to keep them open. The insurgents had packed chlorine into the truck bomb: a chemical attack. From a foot or two away I heard Staff Sergeant Big Sexy Francis, who often manned a .50-cal gun in our Humvees, yell, “You all right?”
Mike Marise answered him: “Yeah, I’m good!” Marise had been an F-18 fighter pilot in the Marine Corps who walked away from a comfortable cockpit to pick up a rifle and fight on the ground in Fallujah.
“Joel, you there?” I shouted. My throat was on fire, and though I knew that Joel was only two feet away, my burning eyes and blurred vision made it impossible to see him in the dust-filled room.
He coughed. “Yeah, I’m fine,” he said.
Then I heard Lieutenant Colonel Fisher shouting from the hallway. “You can make it out this way! Out this way!”
I grabbed Francis’s arm and pulled him to standing. We stumbled over gear and debris as shots were fired. My body low, my eyes burning, I felt my way over a fallen locker as we all tried to step toward safety. I later learned that Mike Marise had initially turned the wrong way and gone through one of the holes in the wall created by the bomb. He then stumbled into daylight and could have easily been shot. I stepped out of the east side of the building as gunfire ripped through the air and fell behind an earthen barrier, Lieutenant Colonel Fisher beside me.
On my hands and knees, I began hacking up chlorine gas and spraying spittle. My stomach spasmed in an effort to vomit, but nothing came. Fisher later said he saw puffs of smoke coming from my mouth and nostrils. A thin Iraqi in tan pants and a black shirt, his eyes blood red, was bent over in front of me, throwing up. Cords of yellow vomit dangled from his mouth.
I looked down and saw a dark red stain on my shirt and more blood on my pants. I shoved my right hand down my shirt and pressed at my chest, my stomach. I felt no pain, but I had been trained to know that a surge of adrenaline can sometimes mask the pain of an injury.
I patted myself again. Chest, armpits, crotch, thighs. No injuries. I put my fingers to the back of my neck, felt the back of my head, and then pulled my fingers away. They were sticky with sweat and blood, but I couldn’t find an injury.
It’s not my blood.
My breathing was shallow; every time I tried to inhale, my throat gagged and my lungs burned. But we had to join the fight. Mike Marise and I ran back into the building. One of our Iraqi comrades was standing in the bombed-out stairwell, firing his AK-47 as the sound of bullets ricocheted around the building.
Fisher and another Marine found Joel sitting on the floor in the chlorine cloud, trying to get his boots on. Shrapnel from the truck bomb had hit Joel in the head. He had said, “I’m fine,” and he had stayed conscious, but instead of standing up and moving, his brain had been telling him boots . . . boots . . . boots as he bled out the back of his head.
Fisher, Big Sexy, and I charged up the twisted bombed-out staircase to find higher ground. The truck bomb had blown off the entire western wall of the barracks, and as we raced up the staircase over massive chunks of concrete and debris, we were exposed to gunfire from the west. Iraqi soldiers from the barracks—this was their army, their barracks, and we were their visiting allies at this stage of the war—were letting bullets fly, but as I ran up the stairs, I couldn’t see any targets. At the top of the stairs, I paused to wait for a break in the gunfire, sucked in a pained, shallow breath, then ran onto the rooftop. A lone Iraqi soldier who had been on guard duty was already there, armed with an M60 and ripping bullets to the west. I ran to cover the northwest, and Francis ran out behind me to cover the southwest. As I ran, a burst of gunfire rang out, and I dove onto the rough brown concrete and crawled through a mess of empty plastic drink bottles, musty milk cartons, cigarette butts, dip cans, and spit bottles—trash left behind by Iraqi soldiers on guard duty.
As I reached the northern edge of the roof, I peered over the eight-een-inch ledge to check for targets and caught sight of a tall minaret on a mosque to the northeast. It was not uncommon for snipers to take positions inside minarets and shoot at Americans. It would have been a far shot for even the best sniper, but as I scanned the streets, I kept my head moving, just in case.
Women and children were scattered and running below us, but no one had a weapon. Far off to the north, I saw armed men running. I steadied my rifle and aimed. I took a slow breath, focused my sights, laid the pad of my finger on the trigger . . . no. Those were Iraqi police from our base.
I called to Francis, “You see anything? You have any targets?”
Nothing. The sun rose. We felt the heat of the day begin to sink into the roof. We waited. We watched. My breathing was still shallow, and I felt as if someone had tightened a belt around my lungs and was pulling hard to kill me. I glanced over the ledge of the roof again. Nothing. I assessed. We had plenty of bullets, and my med kit was intact. We had the high ground, good cover, and a clear view of every avenue of approach. We’d need some water eventually, but we could stay here for hours if necessary. Sitting there in a nasty pile of trash on the rooftop of a bombed-out Iraqi building in Fallujah, I thought to myself: Man, I’m lucky.
Travis Manion and two other Marines then ran up onto the roof. Travis was a recent graduate of the Naval Academy, where he’d been an outstandin...
"If you're in despair about America's future, meet my hero - Eric Greitens.
His life and this book reminds us that America remains the land of the brave and generous.
The heart and fist are just the combination we need." -Tom Brokaw
The Heart and the Fist might have been written in many countries, but its ideals seem to me to be quintessentially American, from and of the United States as she is at her best. That Eric Greitens--Rhodes Scholar, Navy SEAL, international humanitarian worker and founder of the veterans' aid organization, The Mission Continues--is an extraordinary individual goes without saying. But what resounds so powerfully in this book is his consciousness and drive, from the earliest age, not to cash in on his own abundant gifts but to find some path that was worthy of his highest self, some way to be of use, to make a contribution and to really live a life. This is very American. Mr. Greitens combines in one person the warrior ethos of toughness, courage and tenacity with the compassion of the humanitarian. This, too, is very American--not just to win wars or to impose our will or point of view, but to act in the service of others, on their own terms, to put others in touch with their own capacity to manifest this flame that burns so brightly in Mr. Greitens. If you're restless or itching for some calling you can't name, read this book. Give it to your son and daughter. The Heart and the Fist epitomizes--as does Mr. Greitens' life, present and future--all that is best in this country, and what we need desperately right now.- Steven Pressfield, author of Gates of Fire
"Eric Greitens is exactly the kind of citizen-warrior that America needs to fight our wars abroad and to win our battles at home. A man wise enough to lead, courageous enough to fight, and compassionate enough to care, he has written a glorious book about how to live with purpose that should be required reading for every American."-Bobby Muller, Founder of Vietnam Veterans for America and co-founder of the Nobel Peace Prize Winning International Campaign to Ban Landmines
"The Heart and the Fist is a vitally important, powerful book, along the lines of Seven Pillars of Wisdom by T.E. Lawrence (aka "Lawrence of Arabia"). Filled with adventure, eminently readable, and an incredibly valuable look into the heart and mind of a great man who would serve to guide us into understanding an alien culture.
This book helps to bridge the gap between humanitarian groups and the military (the "heart" and the "fist" ... who are, all too often, truly "alien" to each other!), in the same way that Three Cups of Tea helps bridge the gap between the people of Afghanistan, and those of the West who would assist that nation.
As Three Cups of Tea and Seven Pillars of Wisdom have become mandatory reading in many military organizations, The Heart and the Fist is a seminal, paradigm-shifting work that should be mandatory reading for every military and humanitarian organization who would work together (who must work together!), around the planet, to make our world a better place.
And, even more importantly, this book should be mandatory reading for every citizen who cares about helping others, with our military or with our humanitarian efforts, in a world filled with starvation, suffering, tyranny, oppression and genocide.
This book has turned me into a believer in Eric Greitens' methodology and his cause. Among the first of many to come!" -Lt. Col. Dave Grossman, Lt. Col. USA (ret), author of On Combat and On Killing
"If the United States is going to continue to be the indispensable nation in the 21st century, it is going to require an elite corps of both warriors and humanitarians that combine hard and soft power. Eric Greitens, both in his personal example, and in his book, points the way forward."- Robert D. Kaplan, senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security, author of "Monsoon: The Indian Ocean and the Future of American Power."
"The Heart and The Fist is a defining profile of compassion, courage and commitment that gets to the heart of why we wear the uniform. From combat to the home front, Eric Greitens has demonstrated extraordinary leadership as a Navy SEAL, humanitarian and champion for wounded veterans. His powerful story is testament the service of this Next Greatest Generation that will continue long after the wars end."-Paul Rieckhoff, Founder of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) and author of Chasing Ghosts.
"Few men who become Navy SEALs enter this elite warrior fraternity with a background so rich in compassion, service, and cross-cultural awareness as did Eric Greitens. And few Navy SEALs have served the growing community of wounded warriors with such skill and dedication as has Eric Greitens and The Mission Continues."-Dick Couch, Author of The Warrior Elite and Chosen Soldier"One would have to be mighty cynical to resist the power of Greitens’ experiences, and young Americans would benefit from contemplating his message...A remarkable story told with modesty and grace." - Kirkus Reviews
"A glorious tale of humanity, resolve, and strength, Greitens's book reminds us of how many things we take for granted in our well-ordered lives." -- Publishers Weekly
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