Here’s the audio. There’s two. The first is similar in format to the other conversations I’ve had. The second is almost exclusively Eric talking in-depth about his combat and military experiences. I’m also attaching the transcript for the 2nd.
- On this day of remembrance, this post is fondly dedicated to Sargeant Michael Montgomery and First Lieutenant Thomas Martin, two of Eric Orrill’s friends who were killed in action in Arab Jabour, Iraq.
- Eric was hesitant to appear on my blog. Eric and I grew up on the same street and competed in neighborhood ballgames of football and baseball, but we were never what I would call friends. I’m very appreciative that he agreed to appear on my blog. He’s still struggling with injuries he sustained in Iraq when an IED went off that effect his cognition, memory, and speech. More on that later.
- I am torn how much to write here. On one hand, I know that the majority of people who follow my blog read the summaries rather than listen to the audio. In this case, relying exclusively on my writing would be a mistake. I provide times in here by audio (there are two) to which you can fast forward. Please make the time to listen to Eric. He has paid the price serving our country and deserves to tell his own story.
- Eric describes himself as always being somewhat of a loner and enjoying his own company. That’s not how I remembered him because I always saw him in the company of groups of people. Funny, he always struck me as gregarious, although he could also be very serious. Eric was a natural prankster and jokester. He reported coming out of his shell around sophomore year. People liked him and really enjoyed him. He was, along with Cat Daddy and Paul Carmona, one the more original and entertaining voices in our class.
- He spent a decent portion of high school answering to the name “Eddie”. In our class, we had a lot of guys with nicknames…Buckethead, Pony Boy, Snooberry, , Cat Daddy, Dirty Chad, Big Bird…the list is long. Some went by derivations of their name like Barnyard, Loosh, or Naleep. Nobody else went by some other common English name. I don’t know what the story was behind it, but it was hysterically preposterous then and I’m still laughing at the thought of it now.
- Eric’s still in regular contact with: Beau Harding, Cat Daddy, Brian Moss, Steve Hillman, Keith Campbell, Jay Woolly, Keith Dawson, Scott Sosa, Aaron Verinder, and Mike Hull. It’s not altogether surprising that they’ve maintained their friendships. Those guys had fun in HS together, even if their idea of a good time was hiding in the woods and shooting each other with pellet guns. I have to admit…I’m kind of jealous. BTW…shout out to Jay Woolly, who towed my kid sister out when she took my Mustang mudding. Dude never said a word to me about it.
- Eric was a good athlete He never really got an opportunity in football – he just came out for the sport too late. In another tribute to how hilarious Eric could be in HS, he could often be seen chasing running backs down the field with blocking dummies, much to the chagrin of Coach Zernow and Coach Krause. That made me laugh every single time he did it. It’s 4:30am-ish and I’m still giggling just thinking about it 30 years later.
- He very much regrets how he handled a conversation with Glen McWhorter, the varsity baseball coach. You can listen to the conversation from mins. 12-15. Missed opportunity for everyone involved. The team could have used the help. Glen had this one right – Eric was a very crafty pitcher who had a rubber arm. He also was very patient as a pitcher; maddeningly so. He had the perfect mindset. Pitching was a game to him and he reveled in watching other people chase bad pitches.
- Eric has made good on that regret. Has put in 500+ hours volunteering in coaching youth sports. A lot of dads do that with their own kids. Eric is currently volunteering with 3 and 4 year olds. Hats off to him for giving back to the community.
- Eric has some interesting insights on Dickinson then and now. You can listen in mins. 18-25:30. What he describes is how I also experience our hometown.
- I was curious how Eric ended up in the military. He had issues with authority in high school. I never would have put him on a list of people seeking the regimented lifestyle of a soldier. I’d have put my money on “Saturday Night Live” before the 82nd Airborne. In minute 30, he opens up about the time immediately after high school where he felt “lost” and was working what he describes as dead end jobs. That’s what motivated him to join.
- Eric entered the military in the infantry (around minute 32), doing basic training then airborne at Fort Benning in Columbus, GA before moving on to the 82nd Airborne Fort Bragg in North Carolina. He stayed with the infantry and rose to the rank of Sr. NCO, Platoon Seargent. Think Elias and Barnes in the movie “Platoon”. He was responsible for making most of the tactical decisions on the ground in combat operations.
- He’s been in airborne in all of his units except for one. 98 career jumps.
- Eric served in the DMZ between North and South Korea for 18 months. That’s worth a listen around minute 35. He also spent six months on the Sinai Penninsula, serving between Egypt and Israel. When you add in his multiple tours in Afghanistan and Iraq, Eric’s witnessed the some of the most tense geopolitical conflicts during our adulthood.
- Eric talks about the frustration for American soldiers and the limiting nature of the rules of engagement he was required to follow several times, most notably starting around minute 38.
- If you’re a dove politically, take off your headphones around minute 43 and go get a coffee for a couple of minutes.
- Afghanistan three times. Iraq twice. Discussion heats up around minute 45. In minute 49, Eric talks about taking down what they thought was a Sunni / Al Queda command control building that was instead a sex slave operation. Think “The Kite Runner”. Eric came face to face with two men having sexual encounters with children, which he discusses beginning at 1:13. Chilling.
- Starting around minute 54, Eric begins to talk about reconnaissance patrols on foot. This leads into the discussion of how he was injured when an IED exploded, killing one and injuring nine. He he nearly lost his arm and suffered a traumatic brain injury.
- 2 Purple Hearts, 4 Bronze Star medals, and an Army Commendation Medal are just some of the service honors he’s won.
- Eric has struggled to adapt to civilian life. I read about that in regards to veterans quite a bit. When I do, the thought bothers me but passes. Weeks have passed since this first interview and this is the thing that I’ve continued to process and has only become more real to me because Eric’s someone I know.
- Eric insists he isn’t a hero – it was just his training. He compares the work of the soldier to police officers and first responders in the US. I can see where he’s coming from. That said, I don’t think I know anyone who has put their life in harm’s way so consistently.
Notes from 2nd audio:
- Subsequent to our conversation, Eric was willing to share more. If you’re interested in hearing more in-depth discussions of his deployments and the mental / emotional challenges of each, tune in here.
- The purpose of this 2nd installment isn’t to glorify combat or for Eric to regale us with his memories. His voice tells the story. He’s bearing witness.
- Around minute 13, Eric begins to hit upon his time in Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF). He talks extensively about the mental challenge of being a soldier. His unit was under uncertain but persistent threat from enemy forces. During his 15 month deployment SW of Baghdad, his unit was involved in: 33 reported direct firefights; 7 detonated IED (killed 2 team members, wounded 8 more); 4 RPG attacks; and 2 vehicle-based IED attacks, which killed 16 and wounded another 30+ others. They also had a chlorine bomb attack and water poisoning attempt that were avoided.
- In Eric’s brigade, 57 Americans were lost. 13 committed suicide. He shares the event that drove a member in his unit to take his life. Something that surprised me was that 80% of the deaths were non-combat related, e.g. getting hit by a Humvee at night.
- If you start listening around min. 24, you can hear about one of the events that led to his Purple Heart.
- Eric was in a helicopter on his birthday in 2006 above a Forward Operating Base (FOB) when insurgents were able to blow up about 25% of the facility. Although he talks frequently about the mental challenges of OIF, this is where he really explores it in a little more depth.
- I’m sharing just a few highlights in this summary. That said…at minute 43, you can pick up the most significant incident of his deployment. Suicide bombers drove a dump truck, full of 1000 lbs. of explosives and loaded with a dozen or so RPGs, into the base. Left a crater 75’ by 50’. Of the 22 personnel on base at the time, 14 were wounded and 3 were killed. The wounded had to pull themselves together and take the fight to a subsequent attack to survive.
- Another incident he shared regarded a family and the difficult decisions faced by soldiers in an uncertain, confusing environment where communication is virtually impossible. This is the part I’ve spent the most time thinking about in the days following our 2nd Haunting.
- Around min. 54, we shift to Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) in Afghanistan. Here’s what stands as Eric contrasts OIF and OEF. Iraq was more mental, as they were fighting an insurgency using guerrilla tactics. In Afghanistan, Eric and his unit faced a battle hardened group that maneuvered tactically like a well-trained military. The Iraqi’s would surprise, attack, then disappear. 90% of the time, the Afghani’s would “shoot, spray, and move forward”. Add to that the physical strain of combat at high-altitude (11,000+’) in mountainous terrain. Eric as a normal combat soldier was a solid 205 lbs. In Afghanistan, he would shrink to 170 lbs.
- During his stint in Afghanistan, Eric experienced 56 direct fire engagements and 2 detonated IED. The number of vehicle-based IED’s increased. So did the suicides: 22 in all.
- In Iraq, his group had one soldier abducted. Same in Afghanistan, with one directly out of Eric’s unit. Bet you’ve heard the name Bowe Bergdahl.
- There’s a lot more here regarding Haiti, the Sinai Penninsula (Eric was there when the USS Cole was attacked in 2000), and Korea. If you had to listen to listen to one snippet, it would start around the 1:10 mark where Eric describes preparation drills in North Korea. In short, the troops never knew whether the exercise was a drill or an international incident.
- If you start back up around 1:33, Eric talks about his tradition of carrying American flags for a month during his deployments, then sharing them with people or businesses back home. Very cool story and way for Eric to connect with people.
- Eric has served his country. We’re all proud of him and indebted to him for his service. He’s paid the price. I can tell you this…Eric will never pay for another meal or drink in my presence.