It's hard for a book to stand out in a publishing world filled with excellent accounts of valor by America's warriors in the fight against al-Qaeda, the war in Iraq, and the war in Afghanistan.
But in Fearless, Eric Blehm — author of the excellent The Only Thing Worth Dying For, the underreported story of the fight in southern Afghanistan and the worst "friendly fire" incident of the conflict — has given us an inspiring and unlikely story that is unique in several points:
- It's probably the only biography of a Navy SEAL I have ever read that will appeal equally (or nearly equally) to both men and women.
- It features a hero whose biography is even more compelling than his considerable combat exploits.
- It's the first such book written by this bestselling mainstream author for a Christian publisher.
- And I imagine it's the first book published by an imprint associated with said publisher, Waterbrook, an imprint associated with the venerable Christian publisher Multnomah Press, to include the words "shit" and "ass" (unless the latter refers to the animal that talked to the prophet Balaam or provided Jesus' mode of transportation on Palm Sunday).
But aside from such publishing and marketing considerations, the story of Navy SEAL Adam Brown would be unique for a trio of reasons, any one of which would have been enough to disqualify Brown from the SEAL teams on its own.
To my knowledge, Brown is the only former crack addict to become a Navy SEAL, an extraordinary testimony to faith and determination. SEAL training is some of the toughest military training in the world, designed to weed out candidates by breaking them mentally.
Then after overcoming that — though not without the occasional temptation or backslide — Brown overcomes losing an eye in a training accident and having the fingers of his right hand severed and reattached.
Forget any sports rehab story you thought was the best you ever heard. Brown taught himself to shoot well enough with his left hand to not only stay a Navy SEAL but also move up to DEVGRU (Naval Special Warfare Development Group), the most demanding unit in the SEALs. It's better known as SEAL Team SIX, basically the Navy's version of Delta Force.
Like the Army's DELTA Force, Seal TEAM SIX is one of our nations Special Missions Units, anti -terrorist teams called upon for the most important and dangerous missions, with orders that come directly from the Oval Office and/or top ranks within the Pentagon. These are our nation's most secretive warriors with millions of dollars invested in their training. To put it mildly, they don't often take guys who just learned to shoot with the hand he's using.
Adam Brown grew up in a loving, middle-class family and was known for his good nature and willingness to try anything once. He was a big fan of the Charlie Sheen movie Navy SEALs and even successfully duplicated a crazy stunt from the film — jumping from the back of a moving pickup truck crossing a bridge to the lake below.
He was a ferocious, if undersized, football player who helped take his team to the state championship game; but wasn't quite big enough to play college football.
However, the wrong — very wrong — woman diverted his life and his focus became crack cocaine. For years, Brown lied to and stole from his parents — who often did not know of his whereabouts — to feed his drug habit.
During this time, his parents converted to Christianity and became very devout members of an evangelical church. Eventually, their prayers were rewarded as Adam accepted Christ as his savior and began to fight his addiction.
He also met the right — very right —woman, Kelley, who married him despite the fact he was still struggling with his desire for drugs. A family friend who was a high-ranking naval officer took a chance on Adam, who then turned his remarkable determination to the daunting task of become a SEAL.
Unlike most books of this type, Blehm does not go into great detail about weapons, training, or even combat missions. A good reason for the latter is that the details of Brown's unit's most successful missions are classified. But what is disclosed is both heroic and eye-opening, providing some of the only specs on SEAL Team SIX success rates in combat missions — in particular their focus on eradicating the suicide bombing and IED networks in both Iraq and Afghanistan.
Fearless is first a character study of a man with remarkable determination, who after almost destroying himself would not let circumstances destroy his mission. It is also a touching love story, a look at life in a military family in a particularly stressful type of service, and a testament to the power of faith.
While it is published by a Christian publisher and does not sugarcoat the faith of the Browns, Fearless is not a preachy book, merely an honest one. Brown's Christian faith clearly fueled his turnaround and the foundation of the man he became.
The profanity, which I mentioned earlier, is hardly excessive, particularly for this genre. The "f" word, for instance, makes an occasional appearance as "f***." There is just enough off-color language for authenticity's sake, so that SEALs in combat situations don't sound like a Romney family gathering saying "Golly" all the time.
Brown's last mission is told in pulse-pounding detail, and a moving coda reminds us of the sacrifice these men and their families make for the rest of us.
Fearless is a remarkable achievement, a great telling of a great American story.