Meet Erica

I was a soldier for 25 years with specialty qualifications in combat diving, parachuting, and mountain operations. Going underwater to blow things up. Jumping out of planes to go blow things up. Instructor in Combat Diving, Urban Operations, and Close Quarter Combat.

I’ve done tours in Afghanistan, Iraq and Haiti. I’ve been first on scene after IED explosions, clearing the area even before the medics, of the wreckage and damage—both military and human. I have PTSD and have been permanently impacted by exposure to too many blasts both in training and in combat.

For my whole career I’ve been breaking things: breaking me, breaking others, breaking nature—and with the time I have left I want to mend and fix.

That’s why I jumped at the chance to join the True Patriot Love Barbeau Expedition in July. I was eager to connect with community and business leaders in such an intense and challenging environment.

“Everyone is out of their comfort zone and working together in totally new ways to rise, face adversity and advance.”

I knew that, as a soldier, I could bring heavy lifting and physicality—strap this on and carry it. I had always endeavored to maintain a very high level of physical fitness, especially since my competitors were men. You work together and it creates an unbreakable bond.

As we journeyed together, I had assumed that what I was bringing to the team was my physicality. I was so inspired to see these folks, new to this challenge, absolutely crush it. But I also started to feel like it was unbalanced, unfair:

they were carrying their own gear and smashing it, but they were also carrying my emotional and mental stuff with them. They were interested and curious about my stories, and had shown me such care and compassion. I wondered if I was really pulling my own weight on the trip.

I knew I was there to carry a heavy load. But what they carried for me was truly precious: connection, meaning, purpose.

Then it happened. We got to the point where we realized we were not going to get to the Summit. It was too dangerous, treacherous even. We couldn’t do it safely. And here we were: we had all bled and sweat and dug deep together, but we would not reach our goal of summitting Mount Barbeau. And that is when it hit me. This is what we do in the military: we convince people to keep moving forward, even in the face of defeat and despair. Soldiers acknowledge the hurt, but we don’t stay there. We can’t. So, we move forward, and in that moment, I knew why the vets were there….to share that. To share in the disappointment, but to help the tea see the positive side, so we could move on together and make what was left of our time together the best we could.

When the army moves forward, it leaves you behind. That’s by design. Before this trip, I just felt broken, and that the army and society didn’t have use for me anymore.

“But this trip made me feel needed and important. It made me realize That I’m not a broken piece of trash or outdated equipment.”

I’m not just a lemon that once you’ve squeezed all the juice out of you can just toss. There are people out there who recognize what we’ve been through, and that, though we’re broken and we’ll take our injuries with us forever, that we are appreciated, and that our sacrifices are appreciated, and also that there are still ways for us to serve.

“I want everyone who supports True Patriot Love, through the expeditions or however you give, that you’re donating to programs that allow veterans like me to serve others in a new way, it helps remind us that we still have purpose outside of the military. And it is changing and saving lives. Thank you.”