Erik Kristensen was a Navy SEAL commander who was killed in action (KIA) in the Extortion 17 incident. He fought and died in Operation Red Wings. Many stories were told and the movies were filmed about Operation Red Wings, but the heroism shown by U.S. Navy SEALs is still shining like it was yesterday.
On that tragic day, on June 25, 2005, Lt. Commander Erik Kristensen rushed with his fellow Navy SEALs to help other Navy SEAL heavy outnumbered in Afghanistan mountains. and pinned down by concentrated enemy small-arms fire.
Operation Red Wings
Afghanistan is not the most hospital or friendly of places. Well, at least not since the Taliban had taken over. Navy SEALs led by Lt. Michael Murphy had been operated deep behind enemy lines. Besides Murphy, there were three more Navy SEALs, PO2 Danny Dietz, PO2 Matthew Axelson, HM1 Marcus Luttrell. They were discovered by the forces of local Taliban/anti-coalition warlord Ahmad Shah, and soon they found themselves in a heavy gunfight.
The rescue attempt itself was dangerous. The operators on the ground were already engaged in intense fighting. Outnumbered. The element of surprise was gone and they found themselves in a desperate position. Lt. Commander Erik Kristensen lead his SEALs on a fateful rescue attempt anyway. Knowing full well the danger, and the chances of coming home alive were slim, but he had men in contact who were outgunned. So he went. He led from the front.
Lt. Murphy’s Distress call
Michael Murphy’s team was outnumbered. There were four of them against a large force of insurgents who knew the terrain. Lt. Commander Kristensen heard the distress call and set out with many others as a QRF (quick reaction force) aboard the MH-47 Chinook helicopter.
Much like Lt. Michael Murphy, who exposed himself to enemy fire in order to send the distress call, Kristensen had to know that there was a large chance that he was not coming back alive from this mission. It didn’t seem to matter to him. Or the rest of the Navy SEALs and pilots who were now en route to lend more gunfighters to the battle and help their fellow SEALs on the ground.
For his actions on that day, Michael Murphy was awarded the Medal of Honor, for his bravery and his actions he went beyond the call of duty.
The rule of gunfighting states that you should not only bring a gun but bring all of your friends who have guns too. Make a wall of lead and wipe the enemy from the face of this terrestrial plane. That’s what Erik Samsel Kristensen and his fellow SEALs were going to do.
However, their CH-47 Chinook would be struck by an RPG, and everyone on board would be killed. It was the single worst day for Naval Special Operations in their history. Their sacrifice…while it is only right and proper to mourn their passing, we are grateful that their example lives on. They will not be forgotten and the lessons they taught will not be ignored.
Erik Kristensen died with 15 other special operations troops. The acts of heroism throughout the operation were recounted by Marcus Luttrell in his book “Lone Survivor”. Erik didn’t have to be on that helicopter personally leading the mission that fateful day. But that’s not who Erik was as a friend or officer. He was as his headstone reads, a “Man for Others”.
Erik Kristensen’s Legacy
He is remembered as an Intelligent leader who earned the respect of his men and his senior officers. He succeeded everywhere he served. We are grateful that men like these set the standard for loyalty and faithfulness. The law of the battlefield must be upheld. For his actions, that day Lt. Commander Erik Samsel Kristensen was awarded the Bronze Star with V device.
Fellow service members remember Erik Kristensen as an intelligent and selfless leader with whom it was an honor to serve. He was a good man, and a good friend, who succeeded everywhere he served. Erik embodied the best of all of us: humor, intelligence, wit, perspective, friendship, and above all, love for life.
Prior to the medal, he was awarded posthumously, Lt. Commander Erik Kristensen was awarded, Purple Heart, Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal (3 awards), Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medals (2 awards), Combat Action Ribbon, National Defense Service Medals (2 awards), Afghanistan Campaign Medal, Global War on Terrorism Service Expeditionary Medal, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, Sea Service Deployment Ribbons (2 awards), Expert Rifle Medal, and Expert Pistol Medal.
Erik Kristensen is buried in the Naval Academy Cemetery.
Life and death are certain things, but how do you live is something that matters. The warriors who are defending our freedom and who are ready to die for it are for sure the best among us. Those who are fallen will never be forgotten.