- Associated Press - Saturday, October 29, 2016

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) - A decade after a brain injury ended his military career, former Marine Paul Joshu had lost his marriage, sobriety and sense of purpose. He was addicted to heroin, contemplating suicide and seemed stuck “in an endless abyss of turmoil.”

That’s when a mentor arranged a meeting with Eric Greitens, a former Navy SEAL officer who founded The Mission Continues charity for veterans. Greitens assured Joshu that he still mattered, that he could be a leader for others and encouraged him to get involved in community service.

“It saved my life, literally,” Joshu said.

Joshu is one of many who credit Greitens with helping to turn around their lives. Now some of those same people are rallying behind Greitens‘ Republican campaign for Missouri governor in the Nov. 8 election against Democratic Attorney General Chris Koster.

Joshu appeared in a TV ad praising Greitens. Other veterans and former The Mission Continues participants have spoken at his campaign rallies. Many who contributed to the charity Greitens founded also are giving money to his first-ever political campaign - an overlap that has raised questions about the extent to which Greitens has tapped into his charitable connections for political gain.

Greitens has cast himself as an outsider ready to blow up politics as usual in Jefferson City. Though Democrats once courted him as a potential candidate, Gretiens espouses many traditional Republican positions. He describes himself as anti-abortion, opposes President Barack Obama’s health-care law, supports gun rights and pledges to enact a right-to-work law barring mandating union fees.

But Greitens‘ campaign has been built largely upon a theme of personal leadership displayed through his military, humanitarian and charitable service.

“Leadership,” Greitens said in an interview with The Associated Press, “for the purpose of helping people to change and save their lives.”

At age 42, Greitens already has been a Rhodes scholar and White House fellow, a champion boxer and marathon winner, a best-selling author and motivational speaker. He’s been awarded the Bronze Star, Purple Heart and Navy Reserve Junior Line Officer of the Year. He’s a member of the Missouri Public Affairs Hall of Fame. And he has been ranked by magazines among the world’s most influential people because of his work at The Mission Continues.

Those who know him say Greitens has always been ambitious.

His mother was an early childhood special education teacher and his father an accountant for the U.S. Department of Agriculture. But family friends from suburban St. Louis have said Greitens began talking in elementary school already about wanting to become president. His heroes in kindergarten included President Theodore Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill.

“I was very young when I first started thinking about how I was going to live a good life,” Greitens said.

Some professors at Duke University also foresaw Greitens as a future leader. While other students partied, Greitens trained as boxer, studied in China and traveled to Croatia, Rwanda and Bolivia to document the conditions of children separated from their parents by war and poverty.

Eric was almost like a classic throwback to kind of an era where developing a solid character and informed world view was actually an important part of your education,” said former Duke public policy professor Neil Boothby, who now is at Columbia University.

After earning a doctoral degree in politics from Oxford University in England, Greitens says he spurned lucrative job offers to become a Navy SEAL officer. He was injured while deployed in Iraq and, when he returned home, was inspired by visiting other wounded servicemen to help provide them a renewed sense of purpose through community service.

As he was contemplating how to do this, Greitens met with various people, including Wayne Fields, then the director of the American Cultural Studies Program at Washington University in St. Louis. Fields got the impression Greitens “was putting together a resume.”

“I think it was genuinely an effort to try to find something good to do, but I think it was also clearly from the start designed to create a platform for a political career,” said Fields, an English professor whose expertise is in political rhetoric.

After founding The Mission Continues, Greitens also launched a career as an author and motivational speaker. It’s unclear how much he’s earned from that because he has declined to release his tax returns. Greitens has fashioned himself as warrior-philosopher, a leader in the mold of ancient Greek heroes. He encourages others to similarly chart a course for who they want to be, then set out to achieve it.

Eric has a talent in offering purpose, direction and motivation for people,” said Mike Pereira, a former Army officer who met Greitens in Iraq.

Years later, Pereira followed Greitens‘ model of community service to overcome his post-military depression and worked for a while at The Mission Continues. It was Pereira who introduced Greitens to Joshu, the former Marine struggling with life.

Joshu said Greitens took time to listen and care and encouraged him to set goals. It started small - making his bed every day - and progressed to volunteering at nonprofits and enrolling in college.

“It really gave me a new perspective on life and what I could do and how I could change myself using the skills I had from the Marines Corps,” Joshu said.

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Follow David A. Lieb at: https://twitter.com/DavidALieb

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