Ex-Navy SEAL inspires teens with his adventures

Posted: Thursday, April 20, 2000

If Bruce Willis were a real hero instead of a Hollywood one, he'd probably be Navy SEAL Michael Anthony Janke.

Janke is a combat-decorated, 12-year member of the Navy SEAL commandos. A specialist in counter-terrorism, he served four years as a member of the top-secret anti-terrorist team. Two years ago, he became a SEAL instructor, an author and a fixture on the motivational lecture circuit.

Janke was the featured speaker Wednesday for the first lecture in the ninth season of Glacier Valley Rotary's Pillars of America Freedom series at Centennial Hall.

Janke has the scars to show for his service to the cause of freedom.

He enumerated them for his rapt audience: 312 stitches; 17 broken bones; five scorpion stings (an anti-terrorist team record); two poison snake bites; two blown-out knees; and one scar from a crocodile bite.

Janke's theme, aimed in particular at the teen-agers present, was simple: Appreciate the fact that the country in which you live allows you a choice. Use that choice to achieve something notable in your life. Don't spin your wheels ``achieving'' the latest fashion from Tommy Helfiger.

``Achievement is your birthright,'' Janke said. ``Your destiny is yours to control -- not `Melrose Place,' not CNN, not Time magazine, not Tommy Helfiger.''

People who base their ideas of achievement on driving a Mercedes, wearing the Nike swoosh and having a fat wallet are sheep, he said. He compared the average American to the hyena sitting around waiting for the lioness' scraps -- rather than the hard-working lioness.

``Most Americans don't embrace the freedom to achieve because it's easier to follow the sheep herder,'' he said. ``It's easier to be average than it is to strike out, get blisters on your hands, take a risk, discipline yourself, found your own business -- become anything you put your mind to.''

Zach Edwards, 18, a senior at Juneau-Douglas High School, videotaped Janke's lecture. ``I think the kids really need these speakers -- and everybody else, too,'' Edwards said.

All 450 tickets sold out by Monday, said Pat Shea, Rotary co-chairman of the Pillars series. Rotary gives away tickets to middle school and high school students.

``We want to give kids a chance to see what we think are truly pillars of our society,'' Shea said. ``The message that these guys and gals have help these kids in every way -- help them meeting their goals.''

Janke wowed the students with a tale of free-falling from 25,000 feet over Africa when his parachute wouldn't open; with mentions of being shot, burned and chased in a Third World country; trekking through hundreds of miles of jungle, desert and the Arctic; sleeping in a garbage dump because it was the only safe spot; going without food for days; and crawling through Colombian drug fields. ``What kind of knucklehead would choose a job like that?'' he asked rhetorically.

Serving one's country is not ``Demi Moore karate chopping, or a SEAL with a woman on each arm,'' Janke said. Service is not glamorous -- not a Hollywood romp.

Freedom is not free, Janke said, again and again. Appreciate what you have, then marry self-discipline to freedom to be a better person. ``Focus on being the doctors, the lawyers, the leaders of tomorrow.''

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