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An Overlooked Hero of Navy SEALs’ Operation Red Wings


When Ed and Suzanne Kristensen initially heard about a Chinook helicopter being shot down in eastern Afghanistan on June 28, 2005, at initial they feared for their Navy SEAL son Erik, who was deployed there at the time, but have been reassured by a Navy buddy that he most likely would not have been aboard.

“Somebody stated Erik would not be on the helo,” recalled his mother, who goes by Sam.

It was a matter of seniority. Lt. Commander Erik Kristensen was a senior commander in SEAL Team 10 in Afghanistan and didn’t go on as several ground combat operations as those in the platoons beneath him.

“But he was on the helo,” his mother told ABC News, as the family members marked the tenth anniversary of Erik’s death in Operation Red Wings last weekend.

A decade soon after the incident, Erik Kristensen, by many accounts an unconventional SEAL, remains a largely unknown figure in the public telling of a single of U.S. special operations’ most tragic — but also most celebrated, for valor — incidents in its history, regardless of bestselling books, internet websites and final year’s hit movie “Lone Survivor.”

Kristensen was the 1 who organized a rescue mission following a SEAL reconnaissance team’s leader, Lt. Michael Murphy, called for enable nicely into a firefight in Kunar province’s soaring mountains. As the job unit commander for SEAL Team 10, in which Murphy served, Kristensen decided to personally lead an assault force by helicopter to his final identified location, exactly where the younger officer had been tasked with getting a militia leader named Ahmad Shah.

But militants had been waiting in ambush and shot down an Army MH-47E Chinook chopper as Kristensen and his guys have been preparing to rapidly-rope to the ground, killing all 16 aboard.

“There are some things you just never delegate,” Ed Kristensen mentioned of his son’s fateful action, at occasions welling up with emotion. Even after a decade, his only child’s loss “is still a extremely raw point. You cannot modify it, you have got to reside with it. But we feel about it all the time.”

Ed Kristensen is a retired rear admiral who had led the Navy’s 1996 recovery of TWA 800 which had crashed off New York with 230 souls lost. The news about the chopper crash came while the Kristensens have been, coincidentally, attending the retirement of a Navy diver in Norfolk who had served under Ed throughout the recovery of the passenger jet in the ocean. When the commander of Naval Particular Warfare referred to as him to say they had been browsing for Erik and the other individuals, his father assumed the worst.

“With my encounter with TWA 800, I knew what an aircraft crash does to men and women. We knew that we had lost him,” the older Kristensen stated.

Quickly they learned that their son Erik was among those killed in action.

The truth that the process unit commander had personally led the mission with seven other extremely seasoned SEAL operators in broad daylight to rescue Murphy’s team and kill Shah — the leader of the “Mountain Tigers” nearby militia who Murphy had been sent to locate on the Pakistan border — didn’t surprise these who knew Kristensen.

“Erik did what any SEAL would do: go help SEALs in difficulty,” Navy Capt. Kent Paro, who led SEAL Group ten at the time and was Kristensen and Murphy’s commander in Afghanistan, told ABC News final week.

The only SEAL to make it out of the Red Wings incident alive, Navy Petty Officer Marcus Luttrell, went on to write the bestseller “Lone Survivor,” which became a major motion image of the similar title last year.

Kristensen, 33, was portrayed in the film by Australian actor Eric Bana in a fairly tiny component. His uncommon personality and fateful heroism has remained largely unknown in public compared to Luttrell and Murphy’s legend, in spite of courageously top the ill-fated rescue mission.

For his actions, Kristensen, who was on his very first major combat deployment in Afghanistan, earned the Bronze Star with “V” (Valor) device. Murphy, 29, of Patchogue, Extended Island, also was killed in action and received a posthumous Medal of Honor from President George W. Bush. The Navy named a guided missile destroyer for him.

“Lone Survivor” integrated a shot of Kristensen’s Birkenstock-clad feet trudging out of his quarters right after Murphy’s call for assistance is received in the tactical operations center in Jalalabad. Friends such as John Ismay, who wrote appreciatively about this detail in the New York Times last year, say that was a subtle tribute to Kristensen as a genuine “non-conformist,” who didn’t fit the Hollywood stereotype of coldly conservative SEAL warriors.

“That was the one portion of the film that I enjoyed. That is who Erik actually was,” mentioned Jason Redman, who served in SEAL Team 10 as an officer with Kristensen at the time of the Operation Red Wings disaster and had when been in Murphy’s platoon.

“Erik leaned to the left. He was liberal in his pondering. Guys gave him a lot of grief but he was witty about it,” Redman, author of “The Trident: The Forging and Reforging of a Navy SEAL Leader,” stated in an interview.

Kristensen attended Washington’s Gonzaga College High School. He rowed crew, played lacrosse and majored in English and French at the Naval Academy and got a master’s degree at progressive St. John’s College in Annapolis. Standing 6′ four”, he is remembered as gregarious and embraced a Jesuit ideal by being a “Man For Others,” close friends and family members said.

“He’s a person all those Jesuits wanted us to be,” mentioned Ismay, a fellow Gonzaga graduate.

“The complexity of who he is, to me, is bigger than his becoming a SEAL. He was wickedly smart, but more on the creative side. He could play the trumpet, he could sing, he could create,” recalled his initial cousin, Jennifer Casey.

“Erik was funny as hell, often one particular of the boys,” Marcus Luttrell wrote in his book “Lone Survivor.”

Ariann Harrison was an old pal in Washington who said he was sweetly absent-minded, once displaying up for a swing dance class in flip-flops and however “he made it perform.” They only discussed his SEAL career as soon as — when he told her he was going to Afghanistan.

“Ahead of he left, I tried to convince him not to go,” she mentioned. “From a loyalty standpoint, he mentioned he educated those guys and he was going.”

In July 2005, a handful of weeks following the crash of “Turbine 33,” the callsign of the MH-47E that Kristensen and 15 other SEALs and Activity Force 160 “Nightstalker” specific operations airmen perished aboard, a squad of paratroopers and Rangers descended the steep slope, charred black from burning jet fuel, with tree trunks sheared off from the exploding chopper.

A glimmer of metal caught a Ranger’s eye and he picked up a stainless steel dogtag bearing not a name but the Army’s Warrior Ethos: “I will generally location the mission initially. I will never ever accept defeat. I will in no way quit. I will by no means leave a fallen comrade.” The determination to not leave their fallen comrades was accurate of all 16 in Turbine 33 — and was a guarantee fulfilled by their Jesuit-taught commander, Kristensen.

In unpublished images taken by an Army photographer of the crash web-site, blackened tree stumps poke up from the flattened slope. Ammunition magazines for M4 rifles, springs and un-fired cartridges litter the sooted ground. Paratroopers held up a pair of Oakley mirrored sunglasses with one lens missing, a flight crew helmet torn open, a bent and flattened tactical flashlight and the lining of a SEAL’s helmet they located on the ground.

The Taliban had pilfered the web site, as well as the remains of Murphy — they even stole his wristwatch — and fellow SEAL operators Matthew Axelson and Danny Dietz in yet another location down the mountain in the forest. Later, militants would display captured U.S. weapons and laptop computers in a video. Evening-vision goggles, weapons and helmets from both web-sites have been recovered over the next two years from Taliban fighters killed in firefights and identified in arms caches in the Korengal Valley. The militia leader, Ahmad Shah, was killed a handful of years later.

A photo of a Ranger’s gloved hand holding the dogtag imprinted with the Warrior Ethos sits framed in the Kristensen’s household, but till this month, his parents had never ever seen the rest of the crash website photos. Searching over the grim photos for the very first time, immediately after an ABC News reporter provided them, Sam Kristensen said if situations have been ever safe adequate and she had the chance to stroll the ground where her son and his fellow warriors perished, “I’d be on the next plane — a mother wants to know everything.”

“I would’ve hated it if anyone had been killed on that recovery mission,” she mentioned soon after viewing the grim scene the young paratroopers had to sift by way of in July 2005. But seeing the internet site, even so long following, was useful. “It will normally be ‘yesterday.’ Ten years does not make any difference.”

To cope with the catastrophic loss, she extended ago befriended other moms who lost young children inside the Pentagon on 9/11 and in Operation Red Wings, and a couple of years ago began volunteering to be an “Arlington Lady,” a liaison to households of the fallen through Navy funerals at Arlington National Cemetery close to their house on Capitol Hill.

“It is quite redeeming issue. You are providing solace to somebody other than oneself, and however you are assisting your self,” she mentioned.

Ed Kristensen, quiet and soft-spoken, said he does not have to have to see that mountainside in Afghanistan to ease his grief, due to the fact he knows that Erik “was doing what he wanted to do. He could say that. That is how I remember him.”

But they have grown weary of the previous decade’s seemingly endless tributes and memorial solutions for these lost in Operation Red Wings and the brutally violent “Lone Survivor” film, which they watched 3 instances at particular screenings for households of the fallen. They participate in a golf tournament in Erik’s name that assists military kids attend Gonzaga but the annual event they truly get pleasure from is “E-Day,” a straightforward bar-b-que in Maryland hosted by Jennifer Casey and her siblings that brings together Erik’s mates, loved ones, Naval Academy classmates and SEAL teammates.

“Subsequent year, I’m providing him up,” Sam Kristensen stated, half joking, of future tributes for her son. They only attended 1 memorial dinner in San Diego final week to mark the tenth anniversary of the Red Wings tragedy and turned down other invites to ceremonies. “It gets tiring. Physically, emotionally. We’ve hated to say no due to the fact folks are incredibly kind,” Sam mentioned.

As torrential rains in Maryland saturated a softball field and playground on Saturday, the mates of Erik retreated into an open air pavilion, where drenched youngsters darted in the mud between adults laughing over “that a single time” Erik had carried out this or joked about that, though the admiral donned an apron and flipped burgers on a grill. Kristensen’s cousins led the Pledge of Allegiance and a former SEAL who served with the mourned guest of honor strummed a guitar in sing-alongs.

Jarret Roth, a Naval Academy buddy, mentioned Kristensen was excited about joining his girlfriend in Paris in 2006 just after his Afghanistan deployment for an Olmsted Foundation Scholarship to attend the Institute for Political Research and was considering beyond his time in the SEAL teams. Kristensen once told Roth, “I never know about this entire SEAL factor. Operating about in the woods is type of cool as soon as in awhile, camping is kind of cool when in awhile. I do not know if I want to do this the rest of my life.”

“Erik was probably the furthest from what you would have thought of a Navy SEAL. He was a bit of a chucklehead. A down to earth, satisfied-go-lucky guy,” Roth mentioned. “He was a incredibly a selfless guy.”

Kristensen’s mother said swapping stories over beers and burgers is most likely how the man his pals contact the “gentle giant” would’ve preferred his life be celebrated, due to the fact he thought funerals were ridiculous and did not even fill out the forms for his burial preferences, which most troops do. His parents buried Kristensen — wearing his beloved Birkenstocks — at the Naval Academy in Annapolis, which his father had also graduated from three decades earlier.

“We’re so more than this. I find it all really strange, all the hero talk. He was such a total goofball,” remembered his friend Ismay, who graduated the academy a few years later and whose older brother served as a SEAL with Kristensen.

Kristensen applied but wasn’t chosen for Simple Underwater Demolition/SEAL college out of the academy. He served as a surface warfare officer at sea ahead of lastly producing it via BUD/S at 26, deemed an “old man” and just below the wire of the SEALs’ age cut-off.

“Due to the fact he entered the teams a little later than his peers, he was a powerful and humble leader. He could relate to the most junior guy and to a basic or admiral,” Paro stated. “He was just a great individual. He was properly-study and intelligent, into music and literature. He was a non-conformist.”

“But he wasn’t a non-conformist just to be a non-conformist,” Ismay explained. “Erik was just his personal man. He really didn’t give a damn.”

Kristensen’s instance of leadership and valor has develop into legend among the midshipmen of the Naval Academy.

Even so uncommon a personality he had, those who knew him agree that he fell in battle personifying the words stamped into that dogtag picked up by the paratrooper in the grime of Turbine 33’s wreckage ten years ago. “I will under no circumstances leave a fallen comrade,” it read. Erik Kristensen and the fallen of Turbine 33 did not.

His vibrant personality appeared to live on as a highly effective presence as his mates convened for the ninth time because 2005 on Saturday, shouting to be heard more than the din of the downpour and laughing louder than the rain.

Smiling as he looked over the crowd and placing his hand on the shoulder of a 1st-time E-Day guest, his father Ed mentioned, “He’s amongst us all, proper here.”