If you’re on the wrong road, God allows U-turns – that is the lesson that the life of Adam Brown, as expressed in Fearless by Eric Blehm, brought home to me.
A Chief Special Warfare Operator in Team Six of the Navy SEALS, Adam was killed during deployment to Operation Enduring Freedom in March 2010 in Afghanistan. The book, Fearless, was born out of Adam’s personal desire to share his spiritual testimony with the world. Adam was keen that the testimony cover not only the positive aspects of his life as a devoted son, husband, father, friend and soldier, but also the nightmare of substance abuse and felony that his life had degenerated into before he allowed his faith to guide him on to better things.
Adam had a formidable reputation, one of outstanding courage. To his friends from high school and his SEALS brothers, he remained one who never feared anything. “Adam didn’t come with brakes,” says Blehm. Where other kids who hurt themselves would have cried, little Adam just got up and got on with what needed to be done. His fiercely protective and loyal nature was evident from the beginning. He was the underdog who stood up for others. The one who was always nice to the boy with Down’s Syndrome who was bullied by his classmates, and to the wallflower in ninth grade that no one else would dance with.
From being the most popular kid at school, Adam found himself a Nobody in college. His grades began to slip and he allowed himself to go astray, drinking alcohol and getting addicted to drugs. Getting involved with the wrong kind of girl, he began to smoke marijuana, then crystal meth and crack cocaine. It was the beginning of a long ordeal in which he would lose the trust of those that cared for him. He was on a high-speed train that was headed downhill.
Then began a life of desperation where he slept out in the open. Once a model employee at his dad’s business, his work ethic, and then his attitude began to deteriorate. To support his drug habit, he began to steal, eventually getting arrested for committing 11 felonies and doing time in jail.
It was at the lockdown treatment centre, to which he was forced to go that Adam first got on the road to recovery. But the tough times were not over. Parents Larry and Janice had to accept God’s presence in their lives for a much-needed miracle to take place.
Adam signed up for Teen Challenge, a de-addiction and rehabilitation programme, only to find that de-addiction programmes cannot secure one for life. He went through numerous relapses before signing up for the excruciatingly hard-core SEALS training. Then began an awesome lesson in “I can do everything through Christ who strengthens me,” a faith which gave him the strength to beat the demons that gnawed at him from within.
Blehm’s writing helps us sympathise with Adam through his addiction and rejoice through his triumph as a SEAL of the highest order. The author’s prose dramatises the events beautifully, creating the exact amount of detail needed to enable the reader to live the momentous events of Adam’s life. The style of writing reminded me of Readers’ Digest’s Drama in Real Life. The writing is sufficiently taut and urgent as to make the story more real to the reader.
Very often I found my eyes welling up. Sure, I cry easy. Even so I could not help but be touched by the sentiment and emotion that Blehm has imbued his writing with. Through the course of the book, my reactions changed from shock and disbelief at the destruction that Adam was hurtling towards to eventual hope that he would rise out of the morass that his life had become.
Eventually Adam drove himself to qualify for the Naval Special Warfare Development Group, better known as DEVGRU, and was selected as the best of the best. To his credit, he proved his mettle time and time again, often fighting hard long after bruises and wounds would have felled another man.
Through the course of several combat exercises, Blehm takes us through the excruciatingly punishing SEALS training and the nerve wracking exercises that SEALS are routinely put through. He also gives us an understanding of the toughness of character that was Adam’s great strength.
When he lost his fingers in an accident (they had to be subsequently re-attached through surgery), Adam’s biggest concern was not whether he would be able to use a fork or write with a pencil, but whether he would be able to do pull-ups.
At another time, Adam lost his left eye. The eye, in fact, had to be surgically scooped out and replaced with a prosthetic eye. Through these difficulties, he remained committed to SEALS and DEVGRU, learning to shoot and fight with the help of his one good eye and hand, in order to seal his place among the Navy SEALS.
I was impressed with the manner in which Blehm entered the world of the SEALS, learning the intricacies and the hazards of what constitutes their everyday life. His style of writing takes us into the heart of combat activity with SEALS. Patiently sifting through numerous interviews and conversations with a host of people that interacted with Adam all through his life, Blehm has pieced together the life of Adam for the benefit of strangers who never knew this hero when he was alive.
Through it all, Blehm never allows us to lose sight of the fact that Adam was what he was because of his faith. It is a faith which is seen in action not only on battle grounds in treacherous terrain but also in small things. A gentleman with a heart of gold, Adam, Blehm tells us, once bought 500 pairs of socks and shoes, of the right sizes, so that Afghan children could cope with the harsh winter. He handed out meal packets to children and watched while they ate to make sure no adult snatched the food from them.
Blehm paints Adam a hero, one who fights his inner demons, struggles against his weaknesses and overcomes his circumstances. A hero who is not afraid to admit to his dark days and the deadly skeleton in his closet that any other man basking in the approbation of his friends and peers would have been quick to hide.
Truly an inspiring book.
I ended up saying a prayer for our own soldiers and their families, heroes that we also take for granted.