The article below originally appeared in the San Mateo Daily Journal and is being reprinted with permission.
It may not have come as a surprise that Foster City native Justin Erickson decided to join the Army.
“We’ve had an Erickson in every conflict since the Civil War,” the 27-year-old San Mateo High alumnus said.
His father, Robert, served in Vietnam. His grandfather was a pilot who was shot down and killed in World War II. Even with a military history, it’s hard to deal with a loved one serving overseas.
“You don’t breathe for a whole year until they get back,” said his mother Cynthia Erickson, a business teacher at the College of San Mateo who noted the second tour was harder to handle than the first.
During his first tour, Capt. Justin Erickson came home with two U.S. flags flown during Operation Iraqi Freedom. He donated it to the College of San Mateo, which will raise the flag this morning during a presentation to honor veterans, active military and all service members and their families.
“I think it’s really an important time for all of us to really reflect on the sacrifices that the military have made,” said Cynthia Erickson. “There was a … poll out about the military being one of the most trusted and admired groups in the country. And I think that’s true; I think we all owe them a real debt of gratitude. They’re just ordinary people who have really given back to the country. They’re owed thanks for that.”
Her son is one of those ordinary people.
Justin Erickson grew up in Foster City originally dreaming of being a pilot. A challenge with his eyesight changed those plans, but he remained active in the community through soccer, becoming an Eagle Scout and heading up the San Mateo High School Quiz Kids team.
Erickson attended the University of California at Santa Barbara where he concurrently completed the Army Reserve Officers’ Training Corps. Erickson was commissioned as an officer June 14, 2005, a day after earning his pre-law degree.
Although switching to a reserve post, Erickson found himself in a full-time position which started with communication training in Georgia then followed with work at Moffett Field before heading to Iraq. Erickson arrived at the tail end of 2006 during the middle of a surge that ended well but was contentious at the time.
“It was more violent than I thought it was going to be. I didn’t expect how much was going on then. Plus, I figured I was a computer guy,” he recalled, noting he assumed that would limit his access to action. Erickson was wrong,
It was during this tour that Erickson purchased two U.S. flags which were then flown over the base where he was stationed.
Erickson’s second tour of Iraq was different. He returned last year in a civil affairs position allowing him to work with people and local government to rebuild and reconstruct the infrastructure in the area.
Working with locals meant relying on a team of interpreters who didn’t always agree on the meaning of a word. Challenges aside, Erickson left happily having been part of a team that negotiated the rebuilding of a school which had been partially blown up by terrorists in 2005 — days before the brand-new building was set to welcome students.
Erickson is now stateside, with just more than two years left in his reservist commitment.
“I miss the feeling like I’m accomplishing something every day. It was exhausting. I didn’t get a whole lot of sleep. Sometimes I didn’t get a chance to shower,” he said, adding the people he met made it worthwhile.
He’s joined thousands of others in the job hunt but feels prepared for challenges given his experience. And he’s thankful for the appreciation with which locals have welcomed him back.
Veterans Day celebrations
• 9:30 a.m. Thursday, Nov. 11 by American Legion Redwood City Post No. 105 at Courthouse Square, 2200 Broadway, Redwood City. Formal event begins at 11:11 a.m.
• 11 a.m. Thursday, Nov. 11 at the College of San Mateo, 1700 W. Hillsdale Blvd., San Mateo. U.S. Rep. Jackie Speier, D-San Mateo, is scheduled to speak at the event.
• 11:11 a.m. Thursday, Nov. 11 at the American Legion Coastside Post No. 474, 470 Capistrano Road, Princeton by the Sea.
Heather Murtagh can be reached by e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone: (650) 344-5200 ext. 105.