Government & Politics

Eric Greitens to return to military service — but not as an elite SEAL, Navy confirms

While former Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens is returning to the Navy, it will not be as an elite Navy SEAL -- the cornerstone of his public image as an author, philanthropist and politician.

The Navy’s Special Warfare community did not approve Greitens to rejoin their community, meaning he is not returning to active status to serve as a SEAL, The Kansas City Star has learned.

It is unclear why. The Navy typically does not disclose internal personnel deliberations and did not provide an explanation on Thursday.

Rather than a SEAL, he is returning as an officer assigned to the Navy Operational Support Center in St. Louis. Greitens’ new designation, general unrestricted line officer, identifies reservists who do not possess a warfare qualification.

“They are usually assigned to general office jobs,” Navy Personnel Command spokeswoman Cmdr. Karin Burzynski said.

Greitens, 45, did not respond to requests for comment.

The Star first reported on Wednesday that the Navy had approved a request Greitens made in April to transfer from inactive standby reserve status to active status in the selected reserves.

Although Greitens is no longer an active member of the SEAL community, the Navy said he still is authorized to wear the highly recognizable Navy SEAL Trident.

No other aspect of Greitens’ life story has defined his public persona more than his years as a Navy SEAL.

It was the basis of his career on the corporate speaking circuit, and it shaped all three of his books.

During his successful 2016 run for governor, his stump speech and campaign ads were peppered with mentions of his time as a SEAL. The habit continued throughout his tumultuous 17 months in office, most notably when he rappelled from the ceiling of an arena at a bull-riding event in Springfield while announcers listed his military commendations.

His frequent references to his time as a SEAL on the campaign trail drew the ire of some fellow SEALs, a group whose credo states: “I do not advertise the nature of my work, nor seek recognition for my actions.”

News of Greitens’ return to military service brought immediate criticism onto the Navy for sending the wrong message at a time when, like the other services, it is grappling with a spike in sexual assaults.

Army veteran Kate Hoit, a senior adviser for the nonprofit Vet Voice Foundation, said the Navy “shouldn’t be harboring predators like Greitens.”

“Greitens is unfit to serve our country — both politically and in uniform,” she said.

A spokesman for the Navy Reserve said the Navy remains committed to addressing sexual misconduct within its ranks.

“Sexual assault and sexual harassment are toxic threats that harm us all. Sexual assault and harassment are not tolerated in the Navy,” said Capt. Christopher Scholl.

Among the scandals that eventually led to Greitens’ resignation were accusations by a woman with whom Greitens had an affair in 2015. The woman said that he led her down to the basement of his St. Louis home, taped her hands to pull-up rings, blindfolded her, spit water into her mouth, ripped open her shirt, pulled down her pants and took a photo without her consent.

The woman testified under oath to the St. Louis prosecutor and a legislative committee considering impeachment of Greitens that he threatened to make the photos public if she ever told anyone about their encounter.

When she tried to leave the basement, after her hands were untied, the woman said Greitens grabbed her in a “bear hug” and laid her on the floor. Then he started fondling her, pulled out his penis and coerced her into oral sex while she wept “uncontrollably.”

Greitens admitted he had an extramarital affair for several months in 2015 but vehemently denied the woman’s allegations of a sexual assault.

He was charged with felony invasion of privacy in St. Louis, but the charges were eventually dropped.

A second felony charge, stemming from accusations that Greitens stole a donor list from a veterans charity he founded to benefit his gubernatorial campaign, was also dropped as part of the deal that forced him to resign last summer.

A Navy official said that any member of the Ready Reserve seeking to transfer to active status would have undergone a review that included a physical, a security clearance review and a legal review, to see if any court records involving the applicant could potentially disqualify him or her from returning to active service.

Because there were no convictions, Greitens cleared those reviews and was approved for transfer to active status, the official said.

However, during any reactivation process to the Navy Selected Reserves, each community the applicant applies to or could potentially return to such as the submarine force, aviation, nuclear specialties, and in Greitens’ case, the Special Warfare, conducts its own review. It is based on that community’s specific requirements, along with the physical and legal checks.

In Greitens case, the Special Warfare community determined that he would not be able to return, the official said.

The decision means Greitens is no longer a SEAL, although he is still authorized to wear the highly recognizable Navy SEAL Trident, the Navy said.

Several prominent critics of the military’s response to sexual assault in its ranks questioned why he was allowed to return at all. They also questioned why he was not prosecuted under the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) after his admission in 2015 of an extramarital affair, which is a crime under the UCMJ.

In response to questions from the Star as to why Greitens has not been prosecuted, an official in the Navy’s Judge Advocate General’s office said “each case is assessed individually, and a variety of factors are considered – including whether the service has jurisdiction over an offense and an individual – when deciding if or how to bring criminal charges.”

U.S. Rep. Jackie Speier, a California Democrat, who has led the effort in Congress to combat sexual assault in the military, saw it differently.

She told The Star it is “beyond pathetic” that the Navy would even consider allowing Greitens to return to active service.

“He should be court-martialed,” said Speier, who serves as chair of the House Armed Services Military Personnel Subcommittee. “Retaining him sends a horrible signal about what the Navy values and its unwillingness to hold officers accountable.”

That Greitens was never charged with sexual assault shouldn’t matter, said Brandon Friedman, a former Army officer who served in Iraq and Afghanistan who also worked as an official in the Obama administration’s Department of Veterans Affairs.

An investigative committee in the Missouri Legislature found his accuser credible, Friedman noted.

“The military has a higher standard than that,” he said. “You don’t have to be indicted for someone to be kicked out of the military. And it’s pretty clear he doesn’t live up to that standard.”

Greitens return also comes as the Pentagon as a whole is responding to a sharp increase in the number of reported sexual assaults, up 12 percent across the services since 2017.

In the Navy specifically, the number of reports of sexual assault rose from 1,585 incidents in fiscal year 2017 to 1,696 in fiscal year 2018, the Pentagon’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office reported to Congress May 2.

With sexual assault “being such a hot-button issue for the military,” it is “just jaw-droppingly ignorant” for the Navy to bring Greitens back, said retired Air Force Col. Don Christensen, president of the advocacy group Protect Our Defenders.

“The Navy,” Christensen said, “does not believe survivors.”

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