Hype is the Gateway Drug to Stolen Valor
By Toby James Nunn
Lately there have been several of our accomplished brothers who have pushed from hype into the enemy’s territory of presumed into the realm of stolen. Guys like Eric Grietens and Dillon Johnson.
Since becoming part of the military I have learned some pretty valuable lessons about who I am as a person and what my actual character make up is. While I was a young Private I fell victim to hyping myself up to people to try and impress them too include lying. An embarrassing lesson taught by the most humblest of real heroes.
This cheapened my story and robbed me of value not realizing that I was already impressive and didn’t require “Frenching” up myself.
Let me quickly frame some context. I served in the United States Army as an Infantryman. I attended what was called One Station Unit Training in Fort Benning Georgia that is a different training composition than traditional Basic Training and considerably harder. It was an all-male affair and quickly we saw the separation of ability and desire. Even there at the Sand Hill School for Boys we would find ways to elevate our experience over another’s. Be it by Battalion, company or the ill-tempered level of our Drill Sergeants. Did the Battalion I went to make me more of an Infantryman than the other Battalions? The answer is No. This hype, however, started what becomes the foundation for later integrity challenges.
I earned my symbols of being an Infantryman just like everyone else but being that I was so proud of mine I wanted them to be special. I wanted the accomplishment to be valued perhaps even more than my brothers.
This mentality is evident throughout the Forces. I have many great friends that are Marines of different types but mostly Infantry and they are taught that because they are Marines they are institutionally better than everyone else. Is this true? Of course not, they have their strengths and their training programs which are of great value and their accomplishment in completing it is of the same value that I wore my blue cord or like many others let it hang from my rear view mirror so every hump on the street knew I was a “Dedicated Infantry Combat Killer.” Reality was that in the Army I was just a guy in a unit that held a higher standard of performance and professionalism. We didn’t need to be like Pilots and tell everyone how awesome we were, our actions and professionalism should demonstrate our value to the military and nation.
While my career was short and filled with interesting twists and turns it was just that, mine. It was untraditional and conventional all at the same time. I witnessed the most amazing of heroics and the highest levels of shitbaggery as most men do in combat. In my return and post military career I have seen and read things that are just staggeringly obscene though. This is where hype starts turning what could be a good man bad.
As a published author that had a horrible publishing experience and felt the pressure to “Hollywood” up my story to make it more than it actually was, I can see how this happens. My book, which is not worth mentioning is not a top seller because I took the human interest route versus the cool guy war story approach. It was never intended to be anything other than a platform for others. It was not a ticket puncher or a financial plan for my future just a medium for some kids to learn about their Dads.
Despite America’s aversion for the War we still want to know that Audie Murphy and John Wayne types exist. Obviously today’s heroes are those like Chris Kyle whose jacket is crazy and hard to explain as he has multiple awards of what few are often even considered for once while being engaged in violent and repetitive combat. We have made celebrities out of gentlemen like Marcus Luttrell who was the lone survivor of an epically failed mission. Understand I am not discounting either man just using their stories to provide context. With gentlemen like this on the “market” and I use that word deliberately one must elevate or hype themselves to that level or above. Each offering must be worthy of Clint Eastwood or multi Oscar nominated actors.
Every warfighter in the force hoped that they would be the lucky guy to come face to face with Osama Bin Laden or Saddam Hussein or several others and yet we this was the Warfighters Powerball. Those lucky enough to be involved have the Golden Ticket to tell their stories and could become Professional Heroes.
This Professional Hero thing is not the career field we entered into and is completely adverse to what we claim to stand for. How can we amongst ourselves justify making money off our dead brothers back? If we set out to honor them by telling their story and providing their families a legacy I can make the exception. This is rarely the case and when it comes to the publishing world the pressure is on the author to make the story more than it was or is because this printing value must maintain the market edge or status quo.
I want to use a couple of books and authors as examples. Eric Grietens, who has 4 books on the open market (The Heart and the Fist, Resilience, Warriors Heart, Strength and Compassion), has made a living doing speeches and selling books along with himself as a Navy Seal. While in his very short 2 year career he did qualify as a Seal he never served in the traditional capacity and his deployments were never in an elite direct action role he has become the market place standard.
So how did this happen? Did he set out to be a stolen valor Tool and perpetrate a great fraud or did the sustained pressure from his publisher and agent to make his voice relevant, create an environment that led a viable voice to the dark side because it could possibly sell more copies and sounds so much sexier on talk shows like the Colbert Report. On film and in videos he is seen as not correcting people on his service and misleading people on his service to telling what some SEALs believe are bold faced lies about his service.
Did he get follow-on publications as a result? Most definitely. Why is he able to do this, you might ask? That is very simple to answer—real war fighting Heroes are not bragging about their most dangerous missions and seeking accolades they are trying to find ways to heal and or preserve their integrity so the enemy cannot use it against them and face the expected follow on mission.
Quiet Professionals raised their hand, signed their name, and challenged themselves more; not for the personal glory but for the love and the cause of our nation and freedom. This service opportunity was not to designed to be a spring board for a public career. In this case qualifications might have been a target for credibility for follow on career in politics.
How did this guy drink so much Kool Aid that he got not one but four books out on the market? Simply enough he was “waterboarded” by the Kool Aid and became a victim of the hype and that led to him to basically becoming a vile lying thief of dead men’s glory. The truly sad part about this is Eric Grietens earned his PhD from Oxford and started a great foundation called The Mission Continues which does great stuff and is SUPER impressive. But those accomplishments will be undoubtedly over shadowed by questions about his service.
Dillon Johnson, the recipient of the Silver Star and a Cavalry Scout in the US Army, co-authored a book called Carnivore in which he claims credit for being the deadliest man in the history of the United States with over 2600 kills. Yes, that was the number included in his presser and in some marketing pieces the word “confirmed” is thrown around. At what point was this story corrupted by the hype and perverted to manage the market place versus honor the service and real accomplishment? Dillon Johnson as a Cavalry Scout performed at such a level. He got a Silver Star and a dedicated area in the 3rd Infantry Division Museum but the book launch most definitely damaged his reputation and possible future in the public eye. He in essence took credit for every kill within the task force he was simply a member of.
The market place wants larger than life heroes and dramatic explosions with Jason Bourne and James Bond type-adventure. Commando was just a movie and why does reality have to compete with that body count. Why can’t the publics thirst for knowledge and curiosity of the human condition just be quenched by the real account. This, “it’s not good enough” mentality leads men down a slippery slope from listening to the hype to freebasing another’s valor.
As a scribe and a publisher I feel like it’s crucial to properly preserve the stories of our time and to honor the heroes within them. It’s a duty to maintain the historical integrity of this period hence why vetting and understanding the battlefield then pairing that information with the market space we might not sell like a Kardashian cook book but we honored those that earned our respect and reminded the community that being just a guy can be mighty impressive and that in itself is not entertainment its inspiring.