LTC Erik Archer discusses campus assignment, thoughts on serving in the military
We’re proud to introduce you to LTC Erik Archer, named chair of the UWL Military Science Department this summer. LTC Archer gives us a flavor of military service as the country celebrates and honors veterans on Sunday, Nov. 11.
Please share briefly your military background.
I’ve had a blessed Army career. From Baghdad to the National Military Command Center in the Pentagon, I’ve had a fantastic journey. At least in terms of the Army, I believe firmly in nurture over nature. And the teams I’ve been a part of role modeled to me leadership, passion, talent, ability, determination and selfless service. I have only ever attempted to create the environment I myself thrived under as a lieutenant with a commander like then CPT Hanrahan, a S3 like then Majors Smart and Hedgepeth and a battalion commander like then LTCs Garrity and Blair. So I owe a debt of gratitude to them for the officer I am today. In this profession of tradition, I hope only to uphold the example of these leaders.
I remember my first day in Iraq where I stood in awe as Apache gunships flew arcs overhead and tanks patrolled the roads. It was eye-opening as I, for the first time, witnessed the strength of our Army brought to bear. I remember the awe at our Army’s capabilities. My last duty station was on the Joint Staff at the Pentagon which, 14 years after I first deployed to Iraq, was as eye opening as to our nation’s joint capabilities.
I worked with Air Force pilots who flew the Mach loop in Ireland, naval officers who commanded ships at sea, and Marines who left J35 and commanded TF Lion in Iraq to help the Iraqis destroy ISIS. The experience was incredible. My immediate boss was a submarine skipper who shared one day in our morning conversation his experience transiting over the Marianas trench in a submarine and the eerie feeling of having no return on the depth ping. Imagine.
Our team leader was a Marine General and a FA-18 pilot with the call sign of Homey who also instructed at the Navy’s topgun school. He shared the time he came closest to dying which involved Mount McKinley, a 24 plane ladder comprised of all services and coalition partners, awful weather and the phrases, “raging on our low level in a 4 ship” and “getting into blue angel parade, but we had a huge rate of drift.” Just one conversation on one day but emblematic of the scope and breadth of knowledge and experience on that team.
So as my career closes and I return to the college environment where I first learned to be an Army officer, I realize that this is my fraternity. I am immensely proud to be a soldier. I am more humbled, though, to be counted among these people. I remember being a kid, playing with my GI Joes, wanting to be one someday. I didn’t get to be GI Joe, but I sure served with him and her. I told my family at my last promotion that when they later look back and remember my service, I want them to remember that he served with people like this. That I served with them.
How did you get assigned to UWL? What have you been doing to get started with our unique Eagle Battalion – one that includes four college campuses?
Selection as a professor of military science is a competitive process, but I have always wanted to teach and during my Army assignments, found the most rewarding interactions were with junior leaders. So many letters, words and articles are spent lamenting “millennials” and this younger generation, but all I have ever encountered is drive, curiosity and a desire to do the right thing. The Army put me in the batter’s box and I hope I played well. But now, it is especially rewarding to coach.
I am a Midwesterner so the assignment is a dream. Having grown up in North Dakota and Illinois and been stationed in Kansas, I thought the entire Midwest was a prairie. The driftless region is simply stunning.
What Veteran’s Day activities will you and the Eagle Battalion be taking part in?
Collectively, our students will serve as a color guard at several UWL, Viterbo and Winona State events so that the communities can rally around our flag. I
will attend and speak at the 8th Annual Veterans Day Breakfast at Mitchell Hall Sunday morning.
How would you suggest civilians honor veterans on Veteran’s Day?
I am but one Soldier. I remember being a young boy and watching the Veteran’s Day Parade in Sanborn, N.D. where my grandpa (a Marine who fought on Iwo Jima) and his buddies rode by on an old faded red fire truck. I felt then that those vets were the GI Joes I played with at home made manifest, made real. I saw them as titans. I know now that they were simply ordinary men and women who chose a path. Nobly walked, they simply wanted the same shot at opportunity as anyone else and felt most at home and most at peace when they fit in.
I sense in this community a deep respect and I see in the driftless region many veterans who are leaders, philanthropists, coaches and important members of our community. Their mission continues. My only suggestion is that deference and honor is best bestowed on Memorial Day when we honor those who died protecting our country. On Veterans Day? Less deference, less “thank you for your service” and more inclusion as peers and “let’s have a beer.” I don’t think most vets want accolades and blush at the inevitable “thank you for your service”. My response always is, “It’s my privilege” because it has been and remains so. And service isn’t unique to veterans. I see every day people who are serving each other, the community, and causes outside themselves. It is a privilege to serve and I think most people in a career or profession of service feel the same way.
So on Veteran’s Day, I want to say that I’m Erik. My grandpa that fought and was shot on the black sands of Iwo Jima was Frank. See veterans first as fellow fallible people, then as veterans. Engage with us, develop friendships and together we can close the civil-military gap we hear so much about. And we can move beyond a transactional phrase.
And donate time or money to a charity like the Disabled American Veterans.
What are you looking forward to with the Eagle Battalion in the rest of this semester? And, the spring semester?
As Timbuk 3 said, “The future is so bright, we gotta wear shades.” The Eagle battalion staff and students are among the best folks I’ve ever worked with and my job these days is keeping up. Combine that with supportive, talented and energetic university students, departments and leadership and the path ahead is indeed bright.