Former Navy SEAL Erik Kristensen ’91 Honored For Service in Afghanistan

Brave, compassionate and selfless: these three words encapsulated the spirit of Lieutenant Commander and Navy SEAL Erik Kristensen ’91. Kristensen was killed on June 18, 2005 while rescuing fellow SEALs members in the Hindu Kush, when his helicopter was shot down by Afghan insurgents. The day of his death is the worst single-day loss of life for U.S. Naval Special Warfare forces since World War II.

“[Kristensen] went beyond what he was required to do at his rank. He didn’t have to go running to the sound of guns to meet the charge and lead the rescue team. He did that for who he was and because he cared so much about the guys that he just got everyone together, jumped on the nearest helicopter and took off as a reaction force. That was exactly who he was — someone who cared more about what needed to be done for the people than about the rules or how he could stand off and get away with not engaging,” said Ryan Rico, one of the Navy SEALs who attended the memorial service for Kristensen held on campus last Friday.

Kristensen was flying with a rescue team to find four SEALs in danger in the Hindu Kush when their helicopter crashed after it was shot down by a rocket-propelled grenade. While he ended up giving the ultimate sacrifice — one’s own life — during combat, he embodied compassion and the “non sibi” spirit throughout his entire life, even during his Post-Graduate year at Andover.

“He was a friend who was there always, who would travel great distances and overcome any obstacle to be there. I believe that was [Kristensen’s] greatest gift among many: his ability to always make room for one more friend,” said Melinda Page ’91 in a letter during Kristensen’s memorial service. The service, open to the Andover community, coincided with an exclusive screening of “Lone Survivor,” a movie adaptation of Kristensen’s mission written by Marcus Luttrell, the sole survivor of the four-men SEALs team Kristensen attempted to rescue.

Kristensen graduated from Gonzaga High School in Washington, D.C., before entering a Post-Graduate year at Andover in 1990. After graduating Andover in 1991, he attended the United States Naval Academy and graduated in 1995 with Honors, receiving a BS degree in English and French. In 1999, he began teaching English at the Naval Academy.

“Had he not been a SEAL, I think he would have been a great teacher. He loved teaching English at the Naval Academy,” said Suzanne Kristensen, mother of Erik Kristensen. His dream of becoming a Navy SEAL was achieved in 2001, when he completed his SEAL training as the oldest in his class to graduate from the program. According to his fellow SEALs, Kristensen approached his SEAL training with the same open-mindedness and compassion as he had the rest of his life, without regard for convention or superficial hierarchy.

“There’s usually that invisible wall that keeps a respectable distance between an officer and an enlisted student, but with [Kristensen], you were more or less on an even level. He was totally for his men, and that kind of a selfless sacrifice about being there for his men is reciprocated by the loyalty we feel for him,” said Marcus Rivchin, a retired Navy SEAL.

“He would always be open, friendly and approachable, and he had a way about him that made everyone around him at ease and very comfortable,” said Rico.

Throughout his life, Kristensen valued community and friendship. As a versatile athlete and a lover of sports, Kristensen pursued lacrosse and crew at Andover.

“He fell in love with [crew] from the moment he was introduced to it at Andover. He went on to pursue it at the Naval Academy, not only because he loved it so much, but [also] for the camaraderie that you get from being a member of the crew,” said Suzanne Kristensen.

Kristensen’s open-minded friendships stemmed from a lifelong independent streak.

“He was very comfortable in his own skin and never really doubted himself. It didn’t make any difference to him what other people thought or what other people did. Whatever he chose to do, he pursued it,” said Suzanne Kristensen.

He was respected by his SEALs teammates as a smart and daring leader who wasn’t restricted by rules to achieve what had to be done.

“One of [Kristensen’s] outstanding characteristics was that he wasn’t governed by a certain mold. He allowed for a situation to dictate what was appropriate — it didn’t matter to him if it required bending the rules a bit,” said Rico.

Kristensen’s flexibility, independence and ingenuity were visible during his SEAL training when he would circumvent the rules of some obstacles to finish his challenge on time.

“[Kristensen] would actually be willing to bend the rules and go the wrong way down the Pacific Highway and go around the obstacle course, and we’d show up ahead of time. The instructors would come tearing around the course, irate that we had beat the system and they didn’t know how we’d done it. [Kristensen] didn’t mind leading the guys into camaraderie, and we were proud of him for not sticking by the rules and playing it by politics,” Rico said.

The remembrance of Kristensen’s life was a fitting start to Non Sibi Weekend last Friday. Through his actions, Kristensen demonstrated the essence of selflessness and captured the ideal of “non sibi,” translated from Latin as “not for self.”

“SEALs guys are the most generous, thoughtful, reflective and humble people you’ll ever come across. That is why we are celebrating [Kristensen’s] life on Non Sibi Day. We are hoping that students would see these characteristic virtues in [Kristensen] as something to emulate, no matter what their vocation is,” said Harrison Flynn ’75, a board member of the Executive Committee of Andover and the Military.

Kristensen’s memorial service began at Memorial Place, where students and faculty recognized all Andover veterans who lost their lives with a moment of silence. Afterwards, Head of School John Palfrey, Commander Rob Patrick USN ’88, several SEALs and Kristensen’s parents, Admiral Edward Kristensen and Suzanne Kristensen, spoke at Cochran Chapel.

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In honor of Kristensen’s death, President George H. W Bush ’42 and President George W. Bush ’64 sent letters of gratitude. The letters were presented to the Andover community on Friday night during Kristensen’s memorial service before the screening of “Lone Survivor.” The letters are two of four that were recited at his service in memory of his character and service.

_“On that mountain ridge in Afghanistan, Erik made the ultimate sacrifice for our Nation. He upheld the unbending ideal of service and loyalty – to carry out every mission, no matter how dangerous, and to never leave a fellow SEAL behind. I am proud of Erik’s service, and I am honored to have been his Commander in Chief. “
— President George W. Bush ’64_

_“Today it is said that we have no heroes. Not so! We do have heroes, and Erik – an American of clear purpose who put service ahead of self – is a hero in every sense of the word. He unselfishly answered the call to duty, serving with resolve and dedication to the principles upon which this nation was founded.”
— President George H. W. Bush ’42_