Erik Kristensen Family Interview
Erik Kristensen was the Lieutenant-Commander of SEAL Team 10 during Operation Red Wings. In fact it was Kristensen who named the mission Red Wings in honor of his favorite hockey team, the Detroit Red Wings. When the distress call came in on June 28, 2005 from Lt. Michael Murphy’s four-man SEAL team Lt. Commander Kristensen boarded the rescue chopper along with his men. As Marcus Luttrell stated in ‘Lone Survivor,’….“He knew he did not have to go but Erik Kristensen was a SEAL to his fingertips. There was no way Eric was not going to answer that call. He was a SEAL, a part of that brotherhood forged in blood. There was only one way Eric Kristensen was headed, straight up the mountain, guns blazing, command or no command.”
Kristensen was portrayed by Eric Bana in the Lone Survivor Movie.
Following is an e-mail interview with Suzanne Kristensen, the mother of Lt. Commander Erik Kristensen.
LSN: I know Erik was born into a military family with his father being retired Rear Adm. Edward K. Kristensen. Did Erik pretty much always want to eventually join the Navy?
SK: Besides Erik’s father (USNA Class of 1965), he also had an Uncle; Gail A. Kristensen (USNA Class of 1960), who retired from the Navy as a Commander. Even though there was a navy heritage and a Naval Academy one too, I do not believe that influenced Erik in his desire to join the Navy. The fact that he applied to the Naval Academy was a surprise to his father and to me. We were then living at the Naval Academy and Erik saw all the good and the bad there. He was actually influenced, unknown at the time to us, by a midshipman we sponsored at the Naval Academy who quit in December of plebe year. Erik said later that that made him think and decide that if he chose the Academy he would finish his plebe year no matter what. So, I do believe that is where he began to think about the Academy as a possible choice and that wherever he chose to attend –the choice would need to be his own – or you would not stay.
LSN: What was he like as a child? What were some of his favorite hobbies and interests growing up?
SK: Well that could lead to a very long answer. He was very adaptable having to endure many moves and many schools. He took an immediate interest in everywhere we lived and seemed to love all our different duty stations. I would say living in Japan was a great adventure for both of us. We traveled a great deal both inside Japan and to other countries in the area. Erik read voraciously, loved Marvel comic book heroes and collected them. As a 10 and 11 year old he loved music, playing a concert trumpet by the age of 10, and eventually ending up as the 1st Chair and Co-concert Master in High School. He swam on the Coronado Swim Team at 10 and was encouraged by his coaches to compete on a national level but he did not like the pressure. He did not find a sport that fit for him until he went into High School and to College. He played Lacrosse in High School and was a member of the Heavy Weight Varsity Crew at the Naval Academy.
LSN: Did Erik ever talk about becoming a SEAL before going to the Naval Academy?
SK: Erik never talked about going into the SEALs. We did live on the Naval Amphibious Base in Coronado when he was 5. And, he was exposed to the SEALS on a daily basis. There were 6 boys on the base at that time from 5 (Erik) to 13, all became SEALs, only one remains a SEAL today.
LSN: What were your family’s thoughts about his decision to try out for the SEALs?
SK: He tried for SEALs twice. The first time was upon graduation from the Naval Academy. He was not selected at that time and went on to become a Surface Warfare Officer. I was actually relieved that he was not selected but disappointed for him.
LSN: Erik was 27 when he made it into the SEALs, the oldest in his class. Did he enjoy the SEAL lifestyle from the very beginning?
SK: Erik could have had very good career as a Surface Warfare Officer or as a teacher of English at the Naval Academy (which he did for a year before deciding to try for SEAls a second time). The second time was a charm for Erik – he was chosen to attend BUDS. I really believe he was extremely happy being a SEAL.
LSN: I read where you said Erik loved reading Shakespeare and Melville and that he enjoyed being on the water, living close to Virginia Beach. What other things did he enjoy doing as an adult?
SK: Still reading anything, keeping his music up with guitars etc. (He had a following in San Diego at a Karaoke Bar for Singing Purple Rain). He was also practicing his French; as he had been chosen as an Olmsted Scholar to attend the Institute for Political Studies in Paris to study for a Master’s Degree in International Relations and Political Science after his tour in Afghanistan. Living right at the beach in Virginia Beach he also had his surf board, surf ski, (not a jet ski) and his motorcycle among other toys. He enjoyed cooking, sports and just hanging out with friends.
LSN: Did you guys know much about what Erik was doing in the SEALs? Was he able to talk much about his deployments?
SK: He, like all SEALs, spoke little if at all about his deployments and we did not ask. He was a very private person about most things and especially about his work.
LSN: How did you first hear about Operation Redwings and what happened?
SK: Operation Red Wings. Do you know that he named that operation after the Detroit Red Wings, his favorite hockey team? We first heard about it (officially) when Admiral Maguire called us about 9 pm that night. We had been in Virginia Beach that day and had heard a helicopter crashed but did not know who was aboard. We received the news upon arriving home from Virginia Beach.
LSN: What are your thoughts on the Lone Survivor book? I assume you’ve read it?
SK: I read it the summer it was published. I really do not know what I thought. At the time I was still in a fog and would have to read it again to give you a good answer. It is Marcus’ story and read almost like a good action movie. So I presume it will be a good movie.
LSN: Do you ever have contact with Marcus?
SK: No. I have not seen Marcus since the award ceremony for Michael Murphy.
LSN: What are your thoughts about the movie? Is that something you’re for or would you rather it not be made?
SK: I have not really focused on the movie. I do not think it is for me to decide either way,
LSN: When was the last time you heard from Erik before Redwings occurred?
SK: Probably a week or two (I think it was Father’s Day weekend). I only remember the conversation not the date. The subject was about holiday plans as he was to leave for Paris in January to have about 3 months of immersion to get his French up to speed before he started graduate school.
LSN: I know you have plenty of special memories about Erik. Are there maybe one or two that stand out the most to you looking back at his life?
SK: I think my first real memory as to what kind of man he would become occurred at age 9 – two different incidents. His father was attending Perspective Commanding Officer’s School and Erik and I remained in the DC area. I had decided to let him be a “latchkey kid” those last few months since we lived only one block from his school. He was supposed to have his homework done by the time I came home. He had Cub Scouts and a birthday party to attend. When I arrived home his homework was not done but he was all dressed for Cub Scouts. So I gave him a choice. He could go to both events and I would not write an excuse for school because his homework was not complete — which would have given him a failed mark. Or he could complete his homework and go to one event. He chose to complete his homework.
The next incident occurred a few months later when we were packing out the house for our move to San Diego. Erik was going to ask three of his school friends to go to Chucky Cheese and then to spend the night. When he had not done this for a few days I began to press for the reason why not. As it turned out, the first morning on the school bus he was asked by the other three to sign a pledge to harass another boy in school. He refused, and they said that they would not be his friend and he said okay. He never asked them and we went on to San Diego. He never spoke about it again. At that time, I knew he would walk his own path and make his own decisions. He always asked our opinion but he really had his mind made up and he was only voicing what he had already decided whether you agreed or not.