March 18, 2021

14 - Erik Armstrong

14 - Erik Armstrong

For this episode I talked to Erik about the 82nd Airborne, his time fighting the Iraq War and his time hopping around in the Afghanistan War. We also talked about the importance of training, good leadership, working with army Special Forces, and the differences between those two wars and those two countries. 

This show supports local veterans' organizations. It's easy to give money to large, national groups, and call it a day, but it's much more impactful, and rewarding to work with vets in your local community. Here's a link from the VA that highlights different local, veterans service organizations across the country. Take a look, and see if there's a way you could make an impact.


Chris: [00:00:30] Hi everyone. It's Chris here with the Long War Interviews.  Today I want to ask you what's the difference between Iraq and Afghanistan, and I'm sure a lot of you listening have been to one or the other. Maybe both. So bear with me for the people who haven't been to either one.

All right. Seriously. In your mind, what's the difference between the two. If you're like most Americans, you can probably find Iraq on a map, but you probably can't find Afghanistan. Do you think they're close together? Do they speak the same language? And what about the Wars? Obviously the trajectory of the war in Iraq was significantly different, but what about the tactics or the weapons used? Or the terrain?

I'm not asking these questions to make you feel bad, but to highlight something I've noticed. Because of the way the Wars have been covered in the news, a lot of people have trouble differentiating them. Sure. You might know that there are mountains in Afghanistan, but some of the fiercest fighting has been in the lush completely flat river areas in the South.

Now all of this brings me to today's guest. Erik Armstrong was a member of the 82nd airborne and fought in both Iraq and Afghanistan. We talked about the innovative approaches, his unit pioneered in Iraq and their extensive travels across Afghanistan. And we wrap up our conversation, talking in depth about the differences between these two countries and these two Wars.

But before I get to our interview, it's time to talk veterans organizations. Eric doesn't have a specific group that he would like to promote. Instead he encourages everyone listening to find a local group that works with vets. Whether it's as simple as a food drive at your local VFW or American Legion to something more specific, like a group that works with homeless veterans in your town, there are tons of opportunities for you to help out people in your own area.

I put a link to a VA list of local vets organizations in the show notes. Can you give it a look and see if there's anything that you can do to help. Okay. Now let's start the show.

Erik: [00:02:55] My name is Erik Armstrong. Grew up in a place called evergreen park, which is actually bordered on three sides by Chicago.  I enlisted in the army in 2004 and went to basic training in March when I was 27 years old. I went in with an airborne contract, so I completed basic training. I went in as an infantry man. Also. And so I completed basic training and then went to airborne school. And from there I was assigned to Fort Bragg and the infamous 82nd airborne division.

Chris: [00:03:36] So at that point know, late 2004, early 2005 U S had been at war for a little while. What was it like getting to a unit where presumably everyone else in the unit had already been deployed to Iraq, maybe Afghanistan before. Was it kind of tough coming into that environment?

Erik: [00:03:53] Well, not everybody else had been deployed already. There were a lot of other newer guys in the unit, but most of the NCOs CO's and some of the E -4 specialists and even some of the privates had been deployed, at least once. The there were guys in the unit when I got there had already been to Afghanistan and Iraq and were on both deployments that I was on.

So they were on their third and fourth. It was a bit intimidating to, to come into that environment, but it was also kind of reassuring because I knew that I had some good leadership, some good NCOs that could teach me. And you know, give me the tools to, to stay alive. And I knew that I was in a, in a good unit that was you know,  it was, it was going to be okay.

And when I went to combat, I wasn't going to be kind of out in the weeds that I was going to have some good training beforehand. And. That I was going to be with people that knew what they were doing. So yeah, it was a little bit of both. It was a little, a little intimidating, but it was also reassuring because, because of those reasons

Chris: [00:05:09] And what kind of training were you guys doing at the time? Was it just like a lot of like urban operations stuff, room clearing, vehicle ops? Or did you kind of have a mission in mind at this point?

Erik: [00:05:21] We were doing a lot of like urban type stuff. We had a, like a MOUT area out there for the civilian types. That's military operations in urban terrain. So we we'd have these buildings set up with they, they had some with like tunnels underneath and, you know, the whole setup. Pretty cool set up out there and we'd go out there and practice and do a lot of room clearing.

We did a lot of room clearing, whether it was um, doing glass house, which is take tape and lay it down on the ground and make an outline. These are where the walls are. And then you go through when you do it this way. And we did a lot of that and we would do that. Like, even if we weren't out in the field, if we were just hanging around and the HQ during the doing during the duty day in Garrison, we would sometimes go out and do stunts like that and little maneuvers on the on the parade field. So we did a lot of that. We got a decent amount of range time, you know, always could have been more for me. I liked range time.  And uh, a lot of Roadmarch in and you know PT, running, running every day in the, in the airborne.

Chris: [00:06:32] Yeah. I, I hear that also as in Camp Lejeune on the Eastern side of North Carolina and Bragg's kind of central Western side. So, you know, out there running every day and the heat, it gets tough. That'll get you ready to go to the middle East.

Erik: [00:06:46] Yeah.

Chris: [00:06:48] I don't, I don't know if you guys ever did this. Very occasionally when we were doing MOUT training, we would get these things called SIM rounds. And you would take off the upper receiver of your M-4 or your M-16 and put on like a blue tipped one and to shoot the gun powder fired paint balls basically. Did you, did you guys get to mess around with those.

Erik: [00:07:06] Yes we did. Yeah. We use those pretty extensively. I know, I know of at least two or three times that we use those out in field maneuvers. I think we got mixed results with them, to be honest with you, they weren't that they weren't as accurate as an actual M-4 and they definitely didn't have the range.

Chris: [00:07:30] that's true. That's a good point.  I always try. And I think when I try and explain to civilians, you know, people who maybe never went to Iraq, like. Almost all the training is, is like you're saying, like doing a lot of room clearing all day, every day. We also set up like the engineer stakes with like road tape to, you know, do you like the glass house?

It's a perfect way to do it. Or, you know, we're just doing it in the barracks with air rifles, with brooms just constantly and, and paint balls, like a good kind of simulation, I think for people to understand, you know, What it is to be stacked up outside of a door. And there's someone waiting on the inside for you and just kind of like the mental state that, that puts you into. So you guys did a lot of room clearing getting ready to go. And then you went to Iraq in 2005. Is that right?

Erik: [00:08:18] Yes. I spent actually about a full year in my unit before I deployed for the first time, which was actually to my benefit because I got a full year of actual, you know, training unit training or the real. Where they teach you the real shit, not basic training, but so I got a full year of that before I got to deploy.   We went in September of 2005 and it was like a surprise, you know, surprise you're going into Iraq. Our Battalion was up in West Point doing training for the cadets over the summer. And we were just supposed to go back to Fort Bragg and we got the word when we were still in West Point. Apparently some generals had been through, and walked some of the training areas where we were doing the lanes for the cadets.

And we're so impressed with the job that we did and all these. Because usually the 10th Mountain Division did it not to throw shade at 10th Mountain, but I guess they didn't do it as well as we did. And these generals were really impressed. And so they decided that we were going to go to Iraq as soon as possible to do election security. And so we ended up in Iraq in September of 2005. Like we got back from West Point start packing. We're going to Iraq in a matter of weeks. And we were on our way.

Chris: [00:09:43] Did you with that year of training under your belt, did you feel ready? Were you excited?

Erik: [00:09:48] Yeah. Yes, I was. I was chomping at the bit to get into the war. You know the whole time since I was in basic training. So I was, I was excited. You know, I was a little nervous, obviously like anybody is especially on their first time. Um, but I was, I was chomping at the bit. I wanted to get into the war.

Chris: [00:10:09] That's another thing. That's hard for a lot of people to wrap their heads around because they think know I would never want to do that.

But you know, if you enlisted, especially post 2003, like that's what you're signing up to do. And I don't know, I don't know about you, but at least me and the guys I was in with pretty much, everyone was like, I would never join a peacetime military.

That sounds awful. It's like

just a lot of cleaning and living in the barracks. Nuts. That's the worst.

Erik: [00:10:35] no, yeah, yeah. I agree. A hundred percent. I mean, I. Did not enjoy Garrison life very much. And I can't imagine, you know, having done that for four years straight with no breaks to go and do the shit that I was trained in to do.

Chris: [00:10:51] Yep. Yeah, I hear that. All right. So you set off for Iraq and where do you go?

Erik: [00:10:56] We first we went to the the air base Al-Assad airbase. And we we did operations out of there. Our first mission was to the Baghdadi. I think it was like Baghdadi area. It was housing complex for retired military. I don't know if they were like all officer's quarters or a mix of office.

It was retirement, basically a military retirement community. And we. It was kind of like get our feet wet mission. They even called it operation cherry popper, I believe. And kind of like to get our heads into the game. Those of us that had, this was our first real world mission and to get, you know, the guys that had been there already get their heads back into the game, like, you know, and so we did that.

We did that mission and I think we were out there a week. And then after that, we went to Haqlaniyah and my company was tasked with the town across the river called um, Bahni Dahir. It was called that's right? Yeah. So that's, that's where like our first kind of like real mission, I guess, you know those, those two. So we were in the Anbar Province. And then after we did that mission, we spend most of our time up near the Ramadi area.

Chris: [00:12:18] Both of my deployments, we had very. From day one, this is your area of operations, your AO. And it, it really helps to have like a defined area. Cause you get to know the geography and the people and the building and kind of like the way things work there. Was it difficult bouncing around like that?

Erik: [00:12:36] Mm. I don't think it, it really was. And I think that's part of the reason that we kind of got we got a lot of praise from the from the upper levels for our deployment. And I think that's part of the reason is because we transitioned so well from one mission to the next we transitioned so well from doing kinetic ops to non-kinetic ops.

So we kinda, we kind of did things a different way than what was being done in Iraq at the time and showed the higher ups a different way of doing things. So we were. You know, we were really good. And again, that's a Testament to our our non-commissioned officers in our, and our officers who trained us very well and really knew what they were doing.

And were really good at controling in the situation. I mean, all credit is due to them.

Chris: [00:13:27] Could you talk a little bit about what you were doing? That was getting such a positive reception from the brass upstairs.

Erik: [00:13:33] Well, being, being an airborne, we um, We didn't drive around too much. We spent a lot of time on our feet, so we patrolled our areas of operation very thoroughly. Instead of just driving down the main street in town, we were all over the place. We were in the Palm Grove. You know, there were patrols through there every day.

We were up and down all the avenues in town. And so we really didn't allow the enemy, any breathing space, any where to set up and do anything or any way to get out either they were trapped and they knew it. And we eventually rooted like, you know, especially when we did the Haqlaniyah thing we were in my company was in Bani Dahir.

And we We had these guys and they were, they were scared and we knew it because we could listen to their radios. And so it was, it was just a matter of getting out of the trucks and walking around and, you know, really getting into every nook and cranny of this village and knowing what's going on.


Chris: [00:14:43] And just to kind of inform the listeners who maybe don't know kind of the tactical shifts about this time that you guys helped lead. You know, in the early parts of the Iraq War, the Donald Rumsfeld strategy of the light footprint and using as few American troops as possible. And really like you're saying, just staying in Humvees is kind of blasting down the main supply routes, you know, the MSRs and the ASRS, and not so much interacting with people cause they didn't want to be viewed as conquers or occupiers or anything like that, the light footprint strategy. And obviously it failed spectacularly in the, you had a couple of big battles, like battles in Fallujah and Najaf and Mosul, but outside of that, you're right. Like no one was really engaging with the populace. So you guys were kind of on the, on the forefront of that.

Was it, did you talk with the locals a lot? Was it mostly just like very heavy foot patrols or kind of, how, how did you engage with the people at the same time?

Erik: [00:15:41] Yes. To all of that. Yeah. We, we did talk to the locals. I mean, not so much to the privates and stuff, but you know, the, the platoon leaders would go and talk to the locals and some of the squad leaders and whatnot. And so we were out in the villages, we stayed in houses. I mean, the people that live there probably didn't like that because we didn't give them a choice, but we all, we would pick up a house we'd stayed in, you know, the community at the end of the block, house at the end, the block, you know?

So we were, we were in there and we talked to the, to the locals we communicated and like I said, we patrolled. All over the place up and down, you know, through the alleys. We went into the abandoned buildings, everything and yeah, we got it. Like I said, every nook and cranny of that village, we were in there.

Chris: [00:16:34] It's so interesting to hear you talk about this because. A couple of years later when I was there, that's just the way everything was done, you know, but it really, you know, someone had to do it first and it's a real Testament to you guys that you came out and you did it. And it was so successful that really every other unit adopted the tactics that you guys innovated there.

Erik: [00:16:53] Yeah. And like, we didn't even know it at the time. You know, when we got some word from, we would get briefings periodically, usually from the battalion executive officer. And he would tell us, you know, we were doing really great things. We're getting a lot of praise. The other area commanders are jealous and they're angry at us. So yeah, it was it was, it was, it was interesting to look back at it and see what happened afterwards, because we weren't there during the, Anbar Awakening, but we did kind of set the template for what units started doing. That really facilitated the Anbar Awakening, cause that never would have happened if American soldiers and Marines weren't on the ground, engaging with the local population in that area, that it never would have went down the way it did.

And you know, so it is, and again, this is all a Testament to the leadership of the battalion. I had nothing to do with this other than doing what I was told, you know, but they, they really  trained us and in maybe more non-conventional ways.

Chris: [00:18:05] Kinda changing track here. For people who don't know, Ramadi is a pretty big city. It's like 400,000 people. I want to say. It's like similar in size to say Pittsburgh, I think. And that funny actually, A buddy of mine when we were there, he is he's from Senatobia, Mississippi. There were 12 kids in his entire K through 12 school.

I'm talking like real small town and we got to Rimadi and he's just like, Oh my God, this is the biggest city in the world. I've never seen anything like this, you know? And the kids from New York are just like shut up, you know? But you know, obviously Rimadi is, is a larger city is like, Is much different.

How did that compare to kind of the other towns that you were in? Were they a kinetically different culturally different? Was there like a big difference in the places that you were spending time in?

Erik: [00:18:55] For us there really wasn't because we didn't really go into city proper. We were in the outskirts. We spent a lot of time in what was called the shark's fin. I don't know if that sounds familiar to you.

 So we spent a lot of time in the outskirts of Ramadi, really. I do kind of recall being a long MSR.

I think it was called Michigan MSR, Michigan, and seeing maybe the outskirts or like the beginning of the city itself, but we didn't really go into it. We spend a lot more in the rural areas outside  in the green zone, near the river.

 Chris: [00:19:31] The Euphrates river for don't know.

always thought it was very cool. It'd be like this, you know, this river's in the Bible, like Alexander, the great was here. Like it's such a historic river.

Erik: [00:19:43] Yeah. It's really cool to stand on the banks of the Euphrates as they called it. 

Chris: [00:19:50] We had our company like supply chief is a master Sergeant, you know, getting, getting gear for our company and he loved Iraqi food. He's always eating, you know, falafels roast chicken. Like it's really good food, but I remember one time he shows up with this big fish, you know, it's got orange slices on, it's like a big roast fish and it looks good. We're like, gunny, this thing came from the bottom of the Euphrates where it's been eating dead bodies and like depleted uranium bullets for the last 30 years, you know, that's disgusting.

 Are there any stories or anything else that you wanted to talk about your time there? 

Erik: [00:20:27] We were there for like five months, I think, up until January and the missions dried up. So, well, Oh, when we were doing our thing in Ramadi,  Well, so our first missions, the one in Haqlaniyah, and the one before that we were attached to a Marine Corps unit.

Actually it was a Marine Corps AO.  But we we ended up, Not doing missions for them anymore. I guess the Marine in the Marine Corps commander didn't like, didn't like us being over there.

So we ended up being attached to a special operations command of some sort we were attached to a task force of Delta Force and Rangers. And so what they would have us do was basically bird dog, and we'd go out, they'd set up positions out in certain locations, you know, kind of hidden. And they'd send us out to go through an area and they collar anybody that ran and caught a bunch of some of the high ranking local wanted bad guys through that way.

So I think it was taskforce 504 might have been. Well that was the first time in, in the army that a regular infantry unit of battalion size had been combined into a task force with Rangers and Delta Force guys like that. And, So when we ended up leaving, they asked for another battalion of 82nd had to be 82nd airborne paratroopers to replace us. And so we kind of set a standard. We started standard in that and that too, which you know, is kind of a cool distinction. There was, it was the first time that we did a, the unit working together like that, those kinds of units mission. And then we did it so well that they wanted more paratroopers right away.

Chris: [00:22:30] Did you like working with them? I only ask, I did a bunch of ops with SEALs when I was in Ramadi and we couldn't stand them. They're super arrogant and like not, you know, we would we'd show up to like provide security for a raid they were going to do, and they would just be sleeping in the back of their MRAP outside the wire, just in there, like we're SEALs, you don't get to tell us what to do. We're just like, shut up. You guys are assholes. You know, you're not, you're making life harder for us.

Erik: [00:23:00] yes and no. I mean, like there were some Special Forces guys Green Berets  know, they had that kind of air to them I guess. But at the same time, there were, there were some pretty down to earth dudes down there. And and I remember like, Before we even started missions in Afghanistan, for example.

Cause we did, we were always in somewhere that there were SF guys around. We went to Mullah Omar's  house that he was gifted by Osama bin Ladin. And I was hanging out in the garage, looking at these guys'  Humvees that they had set up  and one of the guys comes out and just starts telling me about the Humvees and how they do their ops.

And it was like real down to earth. And so, you know, we found them arrogant, but we are also, you know, they were kind of our heroes too, you know, cause like, you know, these, these are the fucking, the special forces. And so. Some of them were kind of arrogant, but a lot of them, you know, when we were in the same place in Iraq and in Afghanistan, you know, they were cool because they all came from where we were.

You know, most of these guys were from the infantry. And like the 82nd airborne, especially a lot of people go from the 82nd airborne special forces, or when they go to special forces training, right after basic training was a very high washout rate. Cause even if they pass, they usually don't accept them in the special forces.

They say, well, you need to go to a line unit and get some experience and then come back again. Later. So a lot of guys that wash out a special forces after basic training and up in the 82nd airborne division. So they, you know, they come from us

They were basically, you know, mostly cool with us, you know, they, they knew what is, what, what we were going through.

They'd been there before.

Chris: [00:25:01] Okay. Cool. So that's that's like a perfect way to transition to your time in Afghanistan. Was there anything noteworthy maybe between your deployments?

Erik: [00:25:11] The army did a reorganization at that point, from the brigade combat teams to these modular task force type things. And so. That affected my unit and that we were reflagged so we went from third battalion of the 504th parachute infantry regiment. Strike hold! To first battalion of the 508th parachute infantry regiment.

Chris: [00:25:40] Okay.  So my first appointment to Iraq like I was saying earlier, just didn't see any combat. It was very peaceful. The war was over and it was difficult being that. You know that senior E-3 junior E-4 and, and having, you know, new guys and they're just like, Oh yeah, you know, Lance corporal Martin, he went into Iraq, but he didn't do shit.

And it was like, I just always had like a big chip on my shoulder. You know? How, how was it for you kind of in this reorg? I'm sure. Like you gain a lot more responsibility is moving up the ranks. I'm guessing you didn't have any of Did you?

Erik: [00:26:12] Um, You, you, yes. You know, to an extent there was that, you know in, you know, in the army, how we have the the patches on our right shoulder. So if you were you know didn't have that patch on there, you got a lot of shit

Chris: [00:26:26] do you, do you want to explain those real quick? Just for the listeners?

Erik: [00:26:29] So, and the army I know the Marine Corps doesn't really do this, but in the army, we were a unit patch on our left shoulder.

And if you've deployed, you also are authorized now to wear a unit patch on your right shoulder. So I was in the 82nd airborne division. I wore an 82nd patch on my left shoulder. That's the unit I was in. And then after I deployed, I put 82nd airborne division patch on my right shoulder because that's the unit I  deployed with. If I had switched into another unit, say I go to a hundred first airborne division, which aren't really airborne anymore.

Don't let them trick you. I would have put that a hundred first airborne patch on my left shoulder and keep that 82nd patch on my right shoulder. And if I had deployed with the hundred and first division, I would have been authorized to wear that patch on my right shoulder, but I would've still left my 82nd airborne division patch on there.

Chris: [00:27:27] Okay. Cool. I think thanks for explaining that there. I appreciate it.

 Erik: [00:27:31] But so, yeah, we, you know, there was you know, for me going over there having been in one deployment and we, we didn't get into a lot of firefights in Iraq. But I was one, I was in one in the Dahir mission. Right along the, we were actually in the Palm Grove next to the Euphrates and where I fired on the enemy.

So I actually had a my buddy was right next to me was shot and he ended up dying. Um, And uh, so I went over there a little more experience, I guess then, you know, the, the new guys in there. So I kind of took it as. You know responsibility to, to kind of watch out for them a little bit and let them know what to expect.

Chris: [00:28:18] Yeah. Sorry about your buddy man that sucks.


So what, why don't you tell us a little bit about your time in Afghanistan? You know, when did you go over? Where did you go?

Erik: [00:28:27] So we went over in January of 2007. And so that was if you remember right around the time of the Iraq surge. So we were on our way to Afghanistan. We were still in Kuwait when the surge was announced. so we were going to go to a COP somewhere in the mountains. I think in the Nuristan province, if I remember correctly  and a COP is a command outpost, think command outpost something outpost.

I don't even remember anymore. It's been awhile, but we were supposed to go to a COP out there and, When the surge was announced, the unit that was already there, they got extended. In fact, some of the guys in the ADVON were already back in Alaska and had to go back to Afghanistan. So I bet they were pretty upset and their families were. So we got. We got stuck in Kuwait for a little while, while they tried to figure out what to do with us, because now we have no mission. And so eventually we ended up in Bagram air base for a little bit, and then they sent us down to Kandahar, Kandahar airfield. And from there we became the first theater task force for Afghanistan. So we were doing another first thing and a setting  another trend again. And I think that they continued on with the task forces, theater task forces after we were gone. But so we ended up basically working out of Kandahar airfield, which was nice because we had all the amenities of a big base.

And then we would fly out into the  provinces and do our missions out there. And so we always had a place to come back home to, we had beds like real beds. Lockers, internet and cable inside our rooms, showers in our barracks rooms. So we always had that to come back to after after a mission. So it was so it was kind of nice. So we did missions a lot in Kandahar during the, in the spring and summer. And we also, we went up to Jalalabad and actually spent more time in Jalalabad. Then we did in Iraq. So it was like a deployment within a deployment because we can't do like leave behind most of our stuff's still in Kandahar, you know, and just take what we could fit in to like, I think like a duffel bag in a rucksack and stuff like that.  Um, And then we were sleeping in squad tents on cots. So as all like a little mini deployment within a deployment, and we were glad when that was over, it was hot as hell in Jalalabad and humid, like worse than Fort Benning, Georgia. It was, it was awful. I mean, they would have us on umm, a reverse schedule.

They wanted us to be sleeping during the day because we're going to be doing operations at night and you try to sleep during the day. And by 10, 11 o'clock in the morning is you're just so soaking, wet and covered with sweat. And so ridiculously uncomfortable, you can't even sleep.  So

Chris: [00:31:57] Yeah, that's I was shocked at how humid Afghanistan was. I was In this town, Marjah in kind of central Helmand, but it's on the Helmand River Valley. And so all the, you know, it's very rural, but all the farmers flood their fields, you know, irrigation, like old school irrigation methods of farming. And so it's just a swamp and you're just like standing post, you know, standing up in the back of an MRAP or something like that and we would actually drink like like three, four, five liters of water in six hours. Just constantly draining water bottles. It's yeah, we had guys getting heat stroke on patrols it's it's no joke.

Erik: [00:32:36] Yeah. It's, it's rough out there. It's hot as hell.

Chris: [00:32:40] So do you, do you want to talk about some of the missions you ran? Is because I'm guessing you weren't parachuting and probably more like helo based operations.

Erik: [00:32:50] Yeah, we did everything. We did air ops, you took Chinooks out. There were ground convoys because every every battalion has in the 82nd airborne has one company that is mounted on trucks, Delta company. And so they go out there. They also  escort our supplies, but they set up perimeters, they've got heavy weapons, you know, heavier weapons and we're carrying around on foot. What we did pretty much everything. We flew out on Chinooks and we'd get out and start going to our objectives and clearing our objectives. So we, we did our our first mission in the Kandahar Province in a place called the Ghorak Valley. And nothing really happened out there. It was supposedly like a place where the Taliban was smuggling weapons through but we never saw any. Any real sign of any of that. It was another one of those, you know, kind of like cherry popper in Iraq, it was get your feet wet missions, get your head back into the game. And then after that we went up into the the Sangin Valley

Chris: [00:34:13] it's a real,

Erik: [00:34:16] Yes. Yes. The the British were out there at the time.

I remember going through Sangin and we went to their their outpost and it was an, a building out there and there was a garden in the back. And I mean, I just remember talking to some of the Brits and they were telling us about how they get shot at every day and mortared and all that. And It was really kind of like an exposed position.

I felt like, you know, we were, we were pretty there wasn't, it wasn't a lot of sight lines. It was a lot of places for the enemy to sneak up and get close. And you know, luckily, we didn't spend a lot of time there. We were just moving through, but we, we walked through that place and did some other stuff in Ramadi and.

There was some fight in Ramadi. I didn't personally see any, I was in another part, you know, we were doing like a blocking action, protecting the flank while the rest of the platoon was over having fun. So I sat there behind the machine gun for part of the time just, come on somebody come out, somebody poke your head out.

I want to play too. So, yeah, Ramadi, that was a interesting place. Saw some old burnout Soviet armor out there. There was a few of those laying on the side of the road when we were moving.

Yeah, yeah. Yeah. It's pretty, it's pretty cool thing.

Chris: [00:35:49] So that was how was Jalalabad you know, where you guys are doing? I'm guessing like night raids and stuff there. If you're sleeping during the day

Erik: [00:35:55] it was hot, real hot. And, but we didn't spend much time in Jalalabad itself. We were gone from Jalalabad airfield. So we spent a lot of time out in the mountain areas close to the border of Pakistan. How long has it been now? It's 21 has been 14 years almost. I think I can talk about this. We had to sign a non-disclosure agreement when we were there.

And I think it might've been 10 years, but I don't remember. So I guess I'm going to roll the dice on this. We went out there to look for Osama bin Ladin, and supposedly there was intelligence that Osama bin Laden was in the mountains near Tora Bora. Again, because this was in 2007, you know, they bombed the hell out of Tora Bora it back in 2002. So we went out there to look for Osama bin Laden supposedly. and, So from Jalala from Jalalabad  air field they started doing a bombing campaign over in Tora Bora, and we could see the flashing of the bombs off in the distance. Like the night before we were set to go out to Tora Bora. And so anyway, we went out to Tora Bora, and we wandered around out there and we never found Osama bin Ladin, obviously.

Um, And then there was some speculation as to, was he really there or did he get tipped off and did he leave? And, at some point we got blamed for tipping, Osama bin Laden off, which was not, not, true. They, they were flying drones over top of where they thought he was constantly. So they probably spotted those drones and like, okay.

They know we're here.

Chris: [00:37:48] Yeah, that's wild. Just as a joke, we would ask locals in Helmand, be like, have you, have you seen Osama bin Laden lately? And they'd be like, who is that? I don't know who you're talking about. The, the drones, I don't know if you remember this, but we could hear them flying overhead.

You know, the reapers, the predators sounds like someone's mowing their lawn, like maybe a block or two away. And I know the locals couldn't stand it cause you can't really see them that well, you know, maybe seem like it. If they're flying in front of the sun or at night, you can kind of seem a little but better, but it's scary just having that like armed drones, overhead all the time.

I mean, that's scary for us as much, but.

Erik: [00:38:26] well, yeah, yeah, but for them, yeah. I've, I've read it about some of the areas where they have drones flying over constantly. And like they, the kids are scared to go outside and, you know, people have post-traumatic stress disorder just from living with these drones and the, and the dropping bombs. And.

The collateral damage. And you know, I know that they've they've, they've hit a lot of civilians in some of these places and that they're scared shitless because there's drones over there all the time.

Chris: [00:39:01] To um, take a step back a little bit here. How would you compare your deployments between OIF and OEF?

 Erik: [00:39:09] It's, it's hard to compare them because they're just so they're so different. Iraq and Afghanistan are really, really different places. The people are different. The terrain is different. The cultures are wildly different. The technology is, you know, you know how it is. I mean, Iraq is, is more or less a modern country. You know, it's got a, you know, it's got a lot of dirty places, but it's more or less a modern country. They've got the TVs and the electricity in the satellite TVs and all this. And. Most of Afghanistan is, you know, as if you stepped out into biblical times there were times when the only signs of modern technology were the water pumps for the fields.

You know, you could hear the engines running and like the motorcycles and the jingle trucks, and that was it. Other than that, it was mud compounds. You know, people walking around in clothes that hadn't been washed in a couple of weeks or months. but it's, it's, it's a, it's a hard comparison it's and one of the deployments was 15 months and one was five.

 like  Well, yeah. One was my first deployment, my first combat, you know, so that's, that's always going to stand out. And then, you know, Afghanistan was when we got into the most the biggest firefights that we were involved in and really. Got some, got some action. You know what we've been asking for a little bit?

So Afghanistan was definitely more lively, more active for us. We more, a lot more walking,  we saw a lot more of the country have been moved around being the theater taskforce. I mean, we spent a lot of time in Helmand but we spent time in other provinces as well. Like I said, up along the mountains, over near Pakistan.

So Afghanistan was a pretty rough one because of the terrain. I mean that at terrain can be really unforgiving when you're carrying as much weight as we were. And like I said, we were all on foot, you know, we'd get off the helicopters and we'd have to hoof it to wherever we going and that, you know, it wasn't like they dropped us off down the block, you know, they would drop us off out way out where we could wander into a village and surprise them, you know, because there's not helicopters landing right over there.

So, it was uh, kind of, kind of life  

Chris: [00:41:58] I always ask people, who've been both places, that question it is hard to answer because you're right. They're completely different, but I don't really think much of America knows that, you know, I think,

I think first off really Americans really only know about the war in Iraq. You know, that was the one that was on the front pages of the newspaper when you were out flying all over Afghanistan, Iraq was the front page news story every single day. And people just forgot about Afghanistan. And the other one I was trying to show people is like the, the worst days of Iraq were awful. You know, the, like the big, big battles in Sadr City, outside of Baghdad or Fallujah or Mosul, you know, just like real, you know, like real like combat, but just the day to day existence in Afghanistan.

Over the course of the entire war, I think was much worse, at least from talking to people and like reading books, like, you know, no one, no one ever went to Afghanistan. It's like, Oh, that was a pretty skate deployment. You know, every everyone who goes like, yeah, it was covered in flea bites and I lost 20 pounds and it was awful.

So that's, that's why I asked that is to just try and like open up these comparisons. Cause most people think they're like, Oh, it's just, you know, people fighting and like, Kind of is vaguely Islamic countries and they don't really know the difference.

Erik: [00:43:18] Yeah. And that's the thing that, I mean, they're, they're wildly different places, Afghanistan and Iraq. I mean the Iraq is Arab and Afghanistan  is not, and they have what is it like about a dozen or so different ethnic groups in that country? And as many languages are spoken throughout that country and they all each have their own different culture, whether it's subtly different or wildly different than the next one.

So a, it's a much different place than Iraq and yeah, I think you're right. A lot of people just, they don't, they don't know that much about it. They don't understand that. They just think, yeah, it's the, it's just another war in there in the Middle East. 

Chris: [00:44:05] So the last question I have on my list here is,  do you have anything else you wanna talk about?

Erik: [00:44:09] Do I would, I kind of want to say that from, from my point of view, because I want to, I also want, you know, people that listen to this understand too. I kind of, I have a whole different perspective on, on these Wars now then I did at the time I was in, I was in full support of, you know, both of them. And, after the time has gone by and seeing what is really happened over there has changed my mind quite a bit. And I think that another thing that a lot of people don't understand is that a lot of veterans are now against these Wars and not only against them continuing, but feel like they shouldn't have been started in the first place, especially Iraq, Afghanistan, I, you know, I thought our mission was to go get Al-Qaida right.

So we go and get Al-Qaida over there. By the time I was in Afghanistan in 2007 ish, there shouldn't have been Americans in that country anymore. But they kept changing the mission. And you know, like I said, at the time I was still all in favor of it, you know, looking back now, I realize like if our mission was to go get Al-Qaida other than why did it change to only get Al-Qaida now we're going to get rid of the Taliban.

And now we have to find Mullah Omar, and now we have to do this. Now we have to rebuild the country and now we have to rebuild their military so that they can fight the terrorists themselves. And now we have to do this. And you know, you mentioned the Afghanistan papers while we were talking before we started.

And, you know, they. they. The leadership knew that what we were being told was a lie and they used these lies as an excuse to keep sending people over there and good people lost their lives. Good people. I, and on our side and on the other side too, I mean, not everybody we fought was a radical muslim terrorists.

Some of them were just people that were pissed off that we were there, you know farmers civilians, this is somebody who'd had their kid killed, you know? And so they picked up a rifle and they shot back. So not everybody over there was like this terrorist that was cutting people's heads off and wanted to destroy America and all this.

So it's really a sad waste of lives and resources on both sides. And it shouldn't have happened and, you know, if that's the most important thing that I can get across.  So, I mean, I guess that's my, that's my big takeaway from, from my experiences. And I think that, you know, a lot of people would be surprised to hear that veterans are starting to really feel this way. And I know I'm not alone.

 And, you know, I mean, You're talking about Afghanistan, especially. I mean, you know, it's bad in Iraq. They've, they've been dealing with this for what, 30 years of continuous war or more going back to the Iran, Iraq war, and, you know almost continuous war an Afghanistan is going on in about 50 years of continuous warfare.

And that leaves really deep scars in those nations that they're going to take generations and generations if they ever are able to recover, you know, from, from that. And, it's just, it's good for both of those countries are beautiful, beautiful places. And to see the devastation, And to know that these, these scars and those countries is gonna is, to be a long, long time. It's in their national DNA almost now in both of those places, because they've been at war for so long continuously. Like  especially the innocent people over in those countries that have grown up knowing nothing but war, never having known peace never known what it's like to be able to go outside and play without there being some sort of danger generations.

And it's, you know, it's, it's really. It's really terrible. And we really need to, as a nation start rethinking our use of force around the world and thinking about what we are doing to these are just other people like, like you and me, and they just want to live their lives and take care of their families and not get bombed by drones, flying overhead all the time.

Chris: [00:49:14] Yeah. I'm not optimistic, but you know, can always hope. Is there, is there a veterans organization or project that you want to talk about at all?

Erik: [00:49:22] I just kinda, you know, I there's, there's a lot of, a lot of different veteran organizations out there that are doing good work. And you know, I would say to people, like, if you really want to, if you want to do something to help veterans go find like a local. Somebody that's doing something local to help veterans there's a lot of homeless veterans in this country and there are a lot of veterans dealing with you know, financial hardships, joblessness and other, you know, medical problems, mental problems, et cetera. And there are a lot of veterans in this country that, that needs some help. And the best thing that you can do is find a local organization that's really out there in knows what is going on in the area.

I think that'd be the best thing. Honestly, there's some organizations, you know, some national organizations that I could mention, but I honestly, I think that if you go find a local even just to like a group, you know, go to the VFW or something and see if they're doing a thing, a food drive or something you know, find a local organization or a group or a person just to, you know, an individual that's doing something to help vets and help them out.

Chris: [00:50:30] That's great.

Thanks man. Appreciate it. And thanks for talking to me, man. I appreciate you taking the time out to sit down with me here.

All right. I want to thank Erik for sitting down and talking to me. And before I go, I want to highlight one thing that he mentioned. Again and again, in our conversation, he gives a ton of credit to the NCOs and officers that trained and led him. 14 years after he left the army. He still remembers what a profound impact they had on him.

And it's a little, a little hokey, maybe a little sentimental. But I want to encourage all of you listening out there to try and emulate that and the people that you lead or work with today, will they remember you so positively in 14 years? It's obviously a high standard to live up to, but it's worth shooting for.

Okay. Thanks for listening. And I'll see you next time.