JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — On election day a decade ago, Army Lt. Jason Kander was serving as an intelligence officer in Afghanistan at the same time that Navy SEAL Lt. Eric Greitens was coordinating combat operations in Iraq.
Today, both are touting their military service as a central component of their campaigns for Missouri’s two highest elected offices. Kander, a Democratic, is seeking to oust Republican U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt. Greitens, a Republican, is running for governor against Democratic Attorney General Chris Koster.
Though they differ on issues, Kander and Greitens both have appeared in military gear in TV ads while casting themselves as part of a new generation of leaders challenging opponents who have been entrenched in politics for decades. That’s just the start of their similarities.
Military records provided to The Associated Press show Kander and Greitens both won praise from their superiors as “outstanding” leaders who helped capture enemies and were repeatedly recommended for promotions. Both volunteered for their war-time deployments to the Middle East. But their tours in Afghanistan and Iraq marked their final combat-zone experiences, as they instead took on part-time military roles in the U.S. and turned their attention to other pursuits.
Both also took a non-traditional path to the military after first obtaining college degrees in political science. Greitens joined the Navy in January 2001. Kander enlisted in the Army in September 2003.
After Navy SEAL officer training, Greitens was assigned to lead a boat detachment, then went to Afghanistan for several weeks on a special deployment before rejoining his team for a deployment to southeast Asia. While in Thailand, Greitens learned of drug use by Navy personnel and initiated an investigation that led to their ouster. In the Philippines, Greitens’ crew effectively shut down a transit site for a terrorist organization, according to an evaluation report.
Greitens then spent three months in charge of a 50-person unit in Manda Bay, Kenya, near the Somali border. Evaluations from two separate superiors praised Greitens profusely for his “hard-charging, action-based leadership” and “savvy diplomacy” that fostered key relationships with local residents and military personnel. He was recommended to become a platoon commander — the next normal progression for a Navy SEAL officer.
But that never happened. Greitens instead left full-time active duty to take a one-year White House fellowship, where he developed a program to get architecture and engineering students involved in rebuilding efforts after Hurricane Katrina. He simultaneously remained in the Navy Reserves, leading a program that recruited high-level advisers for special military operations around the world.
After his fellowship ended, Greitens volunteered for a six-month tour in Iraq that began in October 2006.
During that same month, Kander — who was working as an attorney in Kansas City — was deployed with the Army Reserves on a four-month tour to Afghanistan.
As an intelligence officer, Kander was responsible for analyzing and advising superiors about political and military threats to the U.S.-backed Afghan government. A military evaluation report said “Kander’s hard work directly resulted in arresting enemies and saving lives.” It also said he was one of only a few officers to volunteer as a shooter on convoys, though Kander said he never had to fire at enemies.
Greitens spent his first several months in Iraq at a desk job in Balad then he was sent to Fallujah to lead an al Qaeda targeting cell.
On March 28, 2007, two suicide bombers detonated trucks carrying chlorine gas at the Fallujah government complex where Greitens and other military personnel were sleeping. Greitens, who suffered breathing problems, was among about 15 who were wounded. His deployment ended as scheduled a little over a week later.
A military evaluation report described Greitens as a “key leader and operator on the streets of Fallujah” who participated in more than 200 combat missions that killed more than 90 enemies and detained 500, including some senior terrorist operatives.
When he came back from Iraq, Greitens used his combat pay to found The Mission Continues, a nonprofit that helps veterans transition to non-military life by providing volunteer opportunities. He remained in the Navy Reserves until 2015.
After returning from Afghanistan, Kander transferred to the Missouri National Guard to become an instructor for officer candidates at Fort Leonard Wood. He also resumed a Missouri House campaign for which he initially had begun raising money in August 2006. Kander remained in the National Guard until 2011, when he launched a successful campaign for secretary of state.
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