Every so often, this author hands this particular SOFREP column space over to a guest contributor. The below was filed by Mr. John Martin, the Republican county clerk of Crawford County, Missouri. John is a historian, as well as an elected official, and has specialized in Naval Special Warfare (NSW) history for over 15 years. He is also a sponsored member (by yours truly) of the Underwater Demolition Team (UDT)-SEAL Association, a non-profit veterans support organization whose members are made up of U.S. Navy personnel who have served, or are presently serving, in the Naval Special Warfare community. Enjoy.
If you are a follower of Frumentarius here on SOFREP.com (and you should be), you will have read about former SEAL Eric Greitens’s campaign to become Missouri’s next chief executive. Though his Democratic competitor was nearly pre-ordained by Missouri’s liberal establishment to win handily, Greitens has closed the gap and pulled within range of winning in these final weeks of Missouri’s gubernatorial election. How has that happened?
I will try to provide some answers.
First off, how did I come to cover this race on behalf of SOFREP? As you all might know, Frumentarius is a busy guy. As much as he would like to travel the state chasing his brother SEAL in the unfolding campaign, he holds to that whole ‘family responsibility’ thing. You know, work, wife, work, kids, work, kids, work.
Since several of Greitens’s campaign stops were within easy travel distance for me, I volunteered to gather information for the enjoyment of SOFREP’s readers. So Frumentarius is not so much absent as he has simply enlisted me to help carry out the work he began. It is an enjoyable burden, I assure you.
That brings us around to me. I met Frumentarius several years ago on the first day of class during one of my several stints in graduate school. I showed immediate interest in his time as a Frogman, and when he discovered the breadth and depth of my NSW historical knowledge, an instant friendship was born. Fru did not care that I had never been a SEAL; he is just a decent guy like that.
My vocation is, oddly enough, in Missouri politics, and my favorite activity is the study of U.S. Naval Special Warfare history. Fru thought this would be a great combination to help me help him, which I am always willing to do.
Before you start waving your hands in the air and decrying the “hobbyist wannabe,” please take the following into consideration: I am an actual historian, not a “history buff,” and I have the parchment to prove it. My first graduate thesis, a labor of love entitled, “Uncle Sam’s Web-Feet: The Evolution of U.S. Naval Special Warfare,” was the culmination of reading and research I’d begun as a teenager.
I have had the pleasure of actually meeting many of the men about whom I had been reading and writing, and I learned history from some of them firsthand. It is an educational experience, to be sure, but it’s also akin to getting a tour of your favorite sports hall of fame from the inductees. Once, one of these former SEALs referred to me as “Perlmutter,” a reference to the prodigious researcher made famous in Clive Cussler’s novels. He meant it as a joke, but it stuck. Now, he comes to me for information. Okay, enough on my bona fides.
I had occasion to first meet Eric Greitens at a book signing in St. Louis, Missouri, one night after the release of his second book. As he was signing my copy, I mentioned off-handedly that I liked the sound of “Governor Greitens,” and that I would support him however I could if he were to run for the office. We had a laugh, exchanged contacts, snapped a photo, and parted ways. He officially announced his run for Missouri’s chief executive a few weeks later.
Was it my prodding that led him to the political path? No way. I am taking no credit (or blame) for that.
Fru has already told you about how Greitens emerged victorious from Missouri’s Republican primary election in August. Knowing the political reach of his opponent—Democrat Chris Koster—and Missouri Democrats writ large, Greitens stepped up his game. He called upon some monster support for an event in St. Louis by recruiting former SEAL Team members Dick Couch, Tom Norris, and Mike Thornton to help campaign for him.
I had met Norris and Thornton a few years earlier at the unveiling of a statue placed in their honor on the grounds of the National Navy UDT/SEAL Museum in Ft. Pierce, Florida. I was certainly not going to pass up the opportunity to see them again, alongside Couch and, of course, my favorite gubernatorial candidate, so, on September 27, 2016, I made my way up the interstate to St. Louis.
Couch, whose professional career included not only a stint as a SEAL platoon leader in Vietnam, but also several years as a maritime operations case officer for the Central Intelligence Agency, is now a prolific author and speaker. His latest book, “By Honor Bound,” relates how Norris and Thornton were each awarded the Medal of Honor in 1972 for separate actions in combat.
Couch began his remarks by alluding to his book and absentmindedly reaching for a copy, but found none on the podium. Yours truly (never a SEAL, but once a Boy Scout) was right there to provide his own personal copy for Couch’s reference. Actually, I had a copy of each of his non-fiction NSW titles with me, just in case I could get them signed. While it pays to be a winner, it also sometimes pays to be a nerd.
Couch’s comments bore out what those who study NSW already know, but is still impressive to see firsthand. That is, the quality of selflessness inherent among the best military leaders this country has to offer. Not once did Couch tout his own accomplishments; rather, he focused on the similarity between two Medal of Honor recipients and a veteran seeking public office. This similarity, he mentioned, was simply that Norris, Thornton, and Greitens all “went back” for someone else.
Couch spoke of how, in April 1972, Norris “went back” on a tripartite mission to rescue downed American airmen in enemy-held territory. He then told the story of how, in October 1972, Thornton braved great distance under withering fire as he “went back” to rescue Norris, who was thought to be fatally wounded. Both men were awarded the Medal of Honor for their selfless actions.
Greitens, Couch went on to observe, served his country, then came home to see his fellow veterans suffering with illness, depression, lack of jobs, and the like. He “went back” for his compatriots by using his own combat pay to establish The Mission Continues, a non-profit organization committed to helping veterans with the difficult transition from military service to civilian life.
Following Couch, Norris and Thornton, true to form, did not talk about their own experiences in combat, nor, really, anything about themselves. Instead, they each focused on how they believed Greitens would be a great leader for the state of Missouri. They both mentioned that Greitens has been berated as “inexperienced in government” by his opponent, but they also mentioned how Greitens’s experience is very real and very different.
Norris stated, “The experience Eric has, you can’t buy. Experiences you receive as part of the military exceed whatever other life experiences you might have. Every state has issues and problems, but it’s how you attack them and how you resolve them that makes a good leader. Eric is an incredible leader. And, believe me, he’s the type of person who will get the job done. You can certainly believe that when he says he’s going to do something, it’s a fact.”
Talking about Greitens’s SEAL team work ethic, Norris said, “We don’t have any time for ‘it can’t be done.’ We figure out how it can be done, and we do it. It’s kind of normal for SEALs that, when you get into a firefight, you don’t run. You dig in and you just fight back harder. That’s what Eric is like. He will do that. He will dig in and he will fight for you.”
When Thornton’s turn came to speak, he also diverted attention away from himself and the circumstances surrounding his award. “The medal around my neck does not belong to me, and as Tommy feels, doesn’t belong to him, either. But this medal belongs to every man and woman who has ever served before us, our comrades in arms who served in Vietnam with us, and the people who served after us,” he said.
Thornton mentioned that, since they had not served contemporaneously, he had done his due diligence on Greitens, and had found him to be just the remedy for Missouri’s problems. “What this great state needs,” he said, “is leadership.” He believed that Greitens’s opponent could not stand up to the task, stating that “you cannot lead [from] behind closed doors when you’re having, basically, riots going on in your state.”
He also said of Greitens, “This man is going to make a change in everybody’s life, and it’s going to better the great men and women who served this great nation. He’s also going to serve the rest of the state, and that’s what we need…true leadership. I know Eric will do that.”
Following these three guys would have been daunting for virtually anyone else, but Greitens did so with aplomb. He delivered his message, allowed time for the crowd to meet all the speakers, then he gathered his crew to shuffle off to another event. In case you were wondering, yes, they were all gracious enough to sign my books. All of them.
You’d think that event would be enough for this nerd to go home happy and await the opportunity to cast his ballot on November 8. While it was certainly cool, Greitens wasn’t done helping check the boxes off of my bucket list yet.
Word had it that former SEAL Rob O’Neill was set to appear with Greitens at an event in Springfield, Missouri, on October 6. Yes, the same Rob O’Neill who is purported to have fired the shots that killed Osama bin Laden while he was with the SEAL organization that’s had more name changes than Mellencamp. I told Fru that I was on it, and I jumped in the car.
Indeed, O’Neill was there. He, too, addressed how Greitens’s opponent ranted about the former SEAL’s lack of experience. O’Neill talked about how Greitens had, since college, “gone to the world’s most troubled places, the Gaza Strip, and Croatia. He went to Mother Theresa’s house in Calcutta, learning about humanitarianism, seeing it through firsthand experience, getting out there.”
O’Neill discussed Greitens’s education, saying, “He became a Rhodes Scholar, got a PhD from Oxford studying the history of humanitarianism. While he was there, by the way, he won a gold medal in the national boxing championship. So, he’s fighting and learning about humanitarianism the real way. Then, he decides to become a Navy SEAL.”
Taking a dig at Greitens’s opponent, O’Neill offered, “I don’t know what kind of experience you need, but when the least exciting thing you do is to become a Navy SEAL, you’re doing some stuff. He went on deployment four times—Southeast Asia, East Africa, Iraq, and Afghanistan—got a Bronze Star and Purple Heart. That’s some pretty good experience.”
The “path of least resistance” is what Greitens’s opponent is all about, O’Neill said. “We had a saying for guys like that in the SEAL teams: ‘Why walk when you can ride; and why fight when you can hide?’”
“Who do you want in office to lead this state?” O’Neill asked. “Do you want the career politician who takes the path of least resistance? Or do you want a combat leader, humanitarian, and a fighter?”
By the end of his few minutes on stage, O’Neill had energized the crowd for Greitens’s arrival. Afterward, there were handshakes, pictures, and autographs before the handlers whisked the candidate and his entourage away to another event for the evening. Again, I went home that night, pleased at having checked off another bucket list item.
And about that polling gap: We are now two weeks away from the general election, and Greitens has closed the gap considerably. In just a week’s time, the Missouri Times poll had Greitens narrowing a 16 point gap to just a three point deficit. That closure has been realized through an intense work ethic displayed by this candidate.
Greitens is a man of positivity, and that trait shows not only in his advertising, but also in live events. He is always smiling. Also, it helps that Greitens absolutely crushed his opponents in a recent debate. He did so well that the Democrat frontrunner is now refusing to debate for the rest of the election cycle.
As much work as Greitens puts in, he knows teamwork counts. He did not succeed in combat by himself, did not succeed with The Mission Continues by himself, and certainly will not attain office by himself. He knew that he could call upon some heavy hitters to lend a hand. He could only do this because he has a good reputation.
An operator’s reputation is all-important in NSW. Because of his excellent reputation not only as a SEAL, but also as a decent human being, four SEAL brothers lifted up their teammate in support. They recognized Greitens’s ability to lead, and they wanted to communicate that to the people who get to actually make the decision. None of them served on the same SEAL team, and only one of them served during the same decade, but they all did their homework on their teammate and acknowledged him accordingly.
Now, it is up to the people of Missouri to do their own homework and vote on November 8.
(Photo courtesy of ELLE MOXLEY / KCUR 89.3)