J.J. Abrams has been working for the past four years to raise awareness for The Mission Continues, an organization designed to help soldiers returning home from war.
Brian Truitt, USA TODAY
On the set of Star Trek Into Darkness, Eric Greitens and a few of his fellow military veterans found themselves in a different kind of uniform.
Greitens’ service organization The Mission Continues has a partnership with Star Trek director J.J. Abrams’ Bad Robot Productions and Paramount Pictures, and that led to Greitens and his fellow ex-soldiers being cast as honor guards at a Starfleet memorial ceremony.
Compared to four deployments as a Navy SEAL, “being on a movie set was easier but it was certainly a tremendous amount of fun,” Greitens says with a laugh.
Since Abrams screened his first Star Trek film to soldiers serving in Kuwait in 2009, he’s helped raise awareness for The Mission Continues, which was founded to help military veterans transition from the armed forces to positions of service and leadership in their communities.
“It was really profound to get to see firsthand what it’s like to sacrifice all that they do for our country. I came back and it really stayed with me,” Abrams says.
In addition to dedicating Star Trek Into Darkness to the more than 5 million men and women who’ve worn a military uniform since 9/11, Abrams and the studio created fundraising opportunities with the movie’s premiere, set up a special The Mission Continues screening in St. Louis for veterans and their families and are donating 100% of proceeds from the sales of the Star Trek Action Movie FX app to the organization, among other initiatives.
Greitens, who had tours of duty in Afghanistan, Southeast Asia, the Horn of Africa and Iraq, was serving as the commander of an al-Qaeda targeting cell — with the mission of capturing mid- to senior-level al-Qaeda leaders in and around Fallujah — when his team was hit by a suicide truck bomb in March of 2007.
Greitens was treated for injuries and back in action 72 hours later, but some of his friends weren’t as fortunate. When he came back home to visit some of them at the Bethesda Naval Hospital, they were itching to go back “but the reality for many of them was that they weren’t going to be able to return to their unit,” he says.
“They all wanted to continue to live a purposeful life.”
Soon after, two fellow veterans agreed to put in money from their disability checks and Greitens used those and his combat pay from Iraq to start The Mission Continues as a way of building a bridge between people serving in a military capacity to that of a civilian one.
“He was brilliant in finding a way to do something that as we all know has not necessarily been done well every time in the past: to find a way to welcome these men and women who have served and sacrificed, but then to actually challenge them and engage with them and allow them to continue to do what they’ve been trained to do so well, which is be leaders,” Abrams says.
Greitens has seen more than 680 veterans go through The Mission Continues Fellowship program, in which a returning vet goes back into their community and takes on a community leadership role in a nonprofit organization such as Habitat for Humanity, Big Brothers Big Sisters and Mothers Against Drunk Driving. Over the course of six months, the organization provides them with a stipend as well as an educational curriculum built around the ideas of resilience and community service.
The goal? “For us, it’s a successful fellowship when they emerge with a full-time job or they go on to full-time education,” says Greitens, who envisions building service platoons all over the country with more than 100,000 veterans committing to being civilian and community leaders.
As part of its partnership with The Mission Continues, Bad Robot commissioned a study to find out civilian perceptions of today’s veterans on the whole, and it found that most view the returning heroes as people who can and should continue to serve on the homefront.
“What was really encouraging to us was the vast majority of people had belief and faith in them and a base line of respect and acceptance,” Abrams says.
Yet, the general population of Americans may not know them, according to Greitens.
“One of the challenges is that when people think about veterans, they might think of issues related to post traumatic stress disorder or traumatic brain injury or unemployment or suicide,” Greitens says. “And what we know is that when they come home, they still have a tremendous amount to give.”
Abrams brought him on to the Star Trek Into Darkness set to talk with the cast and crew about The Mission Continues, and the director found a place in the film for Greitens and three Fellows, Melissa Steinman, Jonathan Oravsky and Adam McCann, “to just leverage the experience of making an entertainment film into something a little bit more,” Abrams says.
What made it extra neat for Greitens was the day they filmed their scenes in April 2012 was also McCann’s “alive day” — on the exact same date in 2005, the former Marine machine gunner was hit and wounded by shrapnel from a mortar round while serving in Iraq.
Adds Greitens: “I remember saying to him, ‘I bet seven years ago on this day you didn’t think you’d be on the set of a Star Trek movie.’ ”