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Telling their stories: Eric Engelhardt

By STARS AND STRIPES Published: September 9, 2016

Eric Engelhardt, 29, brand manager, Team Red White and Blue:

“Ever since I was a little boy I only wanted to be a soldier. That was the only thing I wanted to be my entire life. Ao when I turned 18, I joined the army … like my father had. And I wanted to be a Green Beret. That’s a Special Forces soldier. I knew the path was going to be long – two years – and it was all for this little 2-inch by like 1-inch patch that you can actually like go and buy tonight on Amazon. So its kind of ironic that I would go through that kind of torture for just a patch.

I made it through, I got to a team and we deployed to Afghanistan in 2009. We’d go out on patrol and – BOOM – an IED goes off. Two feet below me. A homemade explosive device ejects me into the air 20 feet and I cartwheel. And like the good airborne soldier that I was, I landed feet, ass, head. I land next to my vehicle, my vehicle is on fire. I look down. My right leg is shattered. My back – I didn’t know it at time - is broken. My left leg is broken. My tail bone. And I  - I was the lone survivor in my vehicle.

The other three people in my vehicle they had died. I got Medevaced, to Walter Reed eventually, and I spent the next 6 months there recovering. And from there I spent the next half decade recovering both physically and mentally. I was living my life sacrificial for the men in my truck who had died. I didn’t think I could be happy because they were dead. It makes no sense. But that’s how I was thinking. Like why should I be happy? And it took me a long time to get over that.

But now the reason I am telling you this story is because – I am a grinder. I shouldn’t be a Special Forces guy. Look at me. I am 170 pounds soaking wet. I am not the biggest guy, not the smartest guy. But I persevere. I don’t give up. I don’t look back on my six years spent in the Army as my glory years. Those aren’t the best years of my life. I still have the best years of my life ahead of me. I am going to continue every day to do better than I was the day before. So I challenge you all to not define yourself by a 2-inch by one-inch tab or a piece of paper on your wall or a diploma. I challenge you to define yourself by what you did today and by what you are gonna do tomorrow. Thank you.”

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