Chris Beck now lives as Kristen Beck. (Courtesy photo)
One of the military's elite members, retired Navy SEAL Christopher Beck, was not who he said he was.
Not really, anyway: For a career that earned him a Bronze Star with valor and a Purple Heart, through service in three different SEAL commands including the elite SEAL Team 6, Christopher Beck hid his identity as a transgendered woman.
Chris now lives openly as Kristen Beck, something she could never do while serving seven combat deployments, struggling with the feelings that she was trapped within her male body while serving tours in Bosnia, Iraq and Afghanistan.
Now, in a memoir called "Warrior Princess," published Sunday, Beck describes the life in an exclusively male profession and her transition from football-playing war hero to the woman she always felt was underneath the surface.
"It was weird that I could grow a beard and trick them into thinking I was one of them," she writes, describing the experience of dressing up as an Afghan man. "And really I'm an Amazon woman in disguise as a U.S. military guy in disguise as a Pashtun!"
In the book, co-authored with Anne Speckhard, Beck talks about coming out to friends and colleagues shortly after her retirement in 2011, when she began to make the physical transformation into being a woman.
As a man, Beck married and fathered two children, but frequently escaped into overseas tours to avoid facing the deeper issues of her real identity.
Her parents struggled with the revelations of her identity and accepting Beck's decision to live as a woman, the book says. And, she writes, she is sorry if her fellow SEALs are embarrassed by the news.
But so far, at least publicly, the reaction to the book, and to Beck's news, has been positive.
"You're a team guy, first and foremost, and you will always be," one SEAL writes. "I'll drink a beer with you anywhere, for any reason, no matter how you are dressed... especially if you're buying."
"Being a SEAL is hard," said another. "This looks harder."
Brandon Webb, a blogger active in the special operations community, knew Beck when he served in SEAL Team One
"While Chris was always a little different I had no idea what was lying under the surface, as I’m sure a lot of people will have the same experience," Webb writes.
Transgendered people are still barred from serving openly in the military, even with the demise of Don't Ask, Don't Tell.
But perhaps Kristen Beck's story, one of a lifetime of service and success in some of the top units the military has on offer, could be the one to change that.