I finally saw the movie Lone Survivor just recently, not sure what took me so long to see it. It tells the story of Operation Red Wings (not Redwing, as many write it, it is named for the hockey team), and SEAL mission to take out a Taliban strongman in June 2005. I watched it after reading the book about the mission to kill Osama Bin Laden, No Easy Day, and in the back of that book the author lists the names of SEALs that have died in Afghanistan. One of them was very familiar to me, yet I did not know that he had been killed.
I remember reading an article years ago about the mission Red Wings and the tragedy of the special forces and other men who dies trying to rescue the 4-man SEAL team that was trapped on a ridge in Afghanistan. But one critical fact somehow escaped my notice. The commander of the mission was a guy named Erik Kristensen, a Lieutenant Commander in the Navy and a SEAL. Erik led the group in the Chinook helicopter to rescue the team and died with that group when an RPG was fired into the back of the copter as it looked to set down. It was Erik’s name that finally caught my attention in the back of the book.
Erik and I served on the USS Chandler together. I was a LT(jg) and then LT and served as a Navigator from spring/summer 1997 through summer 1998, and then I left active duty. Erik was an Ensign at the time and had been at the Chandler prior to my arrival, it was his first tour after graduating from the Academy. We became friends right away. The wardroom on the Chandler was not big and there were only a handful of junior officers, so it was hard not to know everyone well. But I would have been friends with Erik regardless. I read back from a journal that I regularly wrote in during my time on the Chandler, especially during a deployment off the coast of Central America that we were on for about 4-5 months, and there are several mentions of Erik as I retold some story for the funny memory or for the impact that it had on me at the time.
I was not super good friends with Erik, and he was a really solid guy and I know that he had super good friends. And this article link here is a nice one written from a guy who certainly knew Erik better than me. http://nyti.ms/1DIfeN0. But I knew Erik.
It is pretty easy to not stay in touch with guys once you leave a station. I got out of the Navy, moved back to Boston for a time and then went to grad school. Erik left the Chandler for San Diego and a Navy SEAL boat team. I knew that he wanted to be a SEAL and that he was taking orders to SWCC, which was something that I had considered doing too as it was a way to connect to the SEAL community that I had many friends in. And I had heard that Erik went back to teach at the Academy and then finally got his spot in BUD/S. But we did not connect in person. I wish we had.
I was really saddened by hearing about Erik’s death. In some ways, I should not have been. He was effectively not a part of my life. A memory that did not even come easily. But part of my sadness was my own mourning for this, my mourning for a loss of innocence and connection to younger life. And, as I read my journal and remembered times spent with Erik, a mourning for the loss of my friend.