ERIC’S WHY I FIGHT STORY:
The word “Team” has always been very significant in my life. Whether we’re talking about team sports, classmates, the Marines, my family, they are all teams, which in effect, makes those individuals on those teams, my teammates.
WHY I FIGHT – I was always athletic. When I attended Pomfret Preparatory School, I was a three-sport varsity athlete. Upon graduating, I attended the United States Naval Academy. While there, I was a four-year varsity letter winner and played on three NCAA Division I Lacrosse Tournament teams. During those years I learned the importance and value in working together and helping to push each other so that we can be strong as a collective whole, not just individuals.
I graduated from the Naval Academy in 1995 and went on to serve as both an Infantry Officer and Special Operations Officer with 1st Force Reconnaissance Company, 1st Marine Division. As Platoon Commander, I led 20 covert operations specialists in Special Forces-related missions, including long range reconnaissance patrols, hostage rescue, high altitude jump exercises, ship takeovers and gas-oil platform takedowns. – WHY I FIGHT
In December 1999, I was a platoon commander on a reconnaissance-training mission in San Diego. As a platoon commander, I’m responsible for all my men, my teammates. On that day we were getting ready for our upcoming deployment to the Persian Gulf. My teammates and I were in a helicopter about to land on a ship we were practicing taking over. We wore between 50-75 lbs. of gear, weapons, equipment and ammunition. I carried an extra 25 lbs. of satellite radio equipment on my back, and every single one of my marines and I wore a lead, bulletproof vest.
Looking out the side window of the helicopter, I remember thinking to myself that I can usually see the ship coming into view relatively slowly. But to me it seemed like we were coming in at a faster speed than we usually do. It was way too low and too fast.
A couple of seconds later, the helicopter struck the side of the ship. The pilot recognized his error and pulled on the collective, which would normally give lift to the helicopter. But on that particular day, the back left wheel of the helicopter became caught in the heavy metal netting that surrounds many of these cargo vessels. It caused the helicopter to become vertical in the air, invert on itself, and plunge into the Pacific Ocean. (WHY I FIGHT)
When it did so, we were immediately knocked unconscious. We woke up sometime thereafter in a sinking helicopter, still wearing all of our gear, weapons and ammunition, having no idea how we were going to get out of the sinking helicopter, and with no oxygen.
I fought and pulled my way through the helicopter as it sank, looking for a way to exit from it. Six of my teammates died when the helicopter impacted the Pacific Ocean. But of those teammates who survived, when we finally did exit from the sinking helicopter, we exited into the Pacific Ocean, which is already a dark body of water, and my teammates and I were deep down in it.
Bubbles from the engine surrounded us. Most importantly, none of us, regardless of how physically fit we may be, how much training we may have had, could hold our breath indefinitely. My teammates and I had been underwater for so long, by the time we found a way out of that deep dark ocean, we were already drowning from all of the salt water we had ingested into our lungs. Our worlds were dark, our bodies were shutting down, and it was getting darker.
I still remember true fear as I think about that moment in the darkness, as I thought to myself “I hope I’m swimming in the right direction.” What made things even more challenging for me at the time, was that when the helicopter hit the water, it was with such violence that I had compound fractured my leg. So when I swam to the surface, while still drowning, with all the gear, weapons and ammunition still on me, I did so using my arms because I had a bone sticking out of my leg.
A few moments later I could see sunlight filtering down, a few moments after I was on the ocean’s surface, and a few moments after that a safety boat picked me up, and I survived that particular day.
Six men didn’t survive the crash. I think about the accident every day, and I think about those men. My teammates. They made me so proud, they made me who I am today, and I know there’s no way I can ever repay them.
Within a month’s time from the accident, we had six new teammates join our team, and we were deployed to the Persian Gulf for seven months. While I was there I vowed to try to raise funds so that the children of the men who died in the accident will be able to go to college one day.
While at the Naval Academy, my grades were less than desirable. I knew that I couldn’t raise funds using my academic skills. But I knew that could I do so by using my athletic ability, my mental and physical toughness, and compete in the world’s longest endurance events. Climbing the world’s tallest mountains. These were things that I already enjoyed doing, but at this was a way I felt that I could do them for a bit more altruistic purposes.
I have a series of sponsors and I raise funds with my competitions. I’ve competed in and completed eight Ironman triathlons. The Ironman is a 2.4-mile swim, a 112 mile bike ride, and then a marathon. One right after the other. No stopping. You hope. I’ve adventure-raced from one side of the Kalahari Desert in South Africa to the other, from one side of Alaska to the other. I’ve adventure-raced from the Pacific Ocean, across Costa Rica to the Caribbean. I’ve competed in more marathons than I can remember, and I’ve summited five of the seven summits, each of the tallest peaks of the seven continents. Three years ago I stood on the summit of Mt. Everest, for six minutes.
WHY I FIGHT – I fight through the pain, the toughness, the challenges, the obstacles of all of these competitions. All I’m trying to do is be a good team leader and a good teammate.
I’ve given a lot of thought to my everyday “fight.” Yes, I fought my way out of that helicopter to survival. I’ve fought through the challenges of competitions and mountain climbs so that I can preserve the memory of those men lost that day. I fight to raise funds so that those children can go to college one day and know that their moms would be proud of them, and their dads would have been proud too.
But my real fight, my everyday fight is this: I want to maximize my life and the lives of those around me. To do so, I feel that I must be the best team leader and/or teammate that I can be on every team that I am a member (family, work, friends- in order of priority). To do so, I have to be in the best physical shape that I can be which allows me to be in the best mental shape. We are all on lots of teams. I know that the more physically and mentally tough I am, the more energy I have to give to all of those teams.
(WHY I FIGHT) People talk to me all the time about what a life-changing event the helicopter crash and the aftermath was. And I’m not so egotistical to believe that it didn’t affect my life in some ways. But not in the manner that most people would think. Because you do not find yourself in the back of a helicopter with ten of the baddest dudes you’ll ever meet in your entire life, wearing weapons, gear, ammunition, and satellite equipment, going in to a sixty-foot hover over a ship you’re ready to take over, and think to yourself, “I wonder how I got here, I wonder how this happened.”
The answer is, I was prepared for that moment. I prepared myself and made a commitment to be physically and mentally tough, so that when I endured what I had to endure, I was ready.
By maximizing my life and the life of those around me, I am a better husband, father, and President of my company, The Program. Yes, I have climbed to the summit of Mt. Everest. Out of all the climbs I have done, my favorite was the one I made with my son, Axel to the top of Tunk Mountain in Maine last Thanksgiving. At three years old, he climbed most of the way on his own, but I still had to carry him a fair amount. If I was physically unable to do so, I would not have been able to share the bag of popcorn with him at the summit. Further, by sharing this adventure, he gained confidence, shaped his body and his mind in a positive manner and developed some grit by dealing with adversity. Being in the best physical shape I can be in allowed me to do so. – WHY I FIGHT
As a team, my family is my number one priority. I fight through physical workouts, not just so I can have grit and toughness for everything else I do in life, but most importantly, as a husband and father, I do it for them. – WHY I FIGHT