In episode 3 of the Task Force Tribute interview series, Christian Anschuetz is joined by Erik Ward (Business Leader, Project RELO Instructor, Former Green Beret), Buff Burkel (Inspirational and Motivational Speaker, Retired USAF Colonel), and Clayton Rife (Program Manager, Project RELO Instructor, US Army Veteran). The three discuss veteran stories — which are shared experiences for many veterans.
01:17 — Erik Ward joined the service in 2003, when he started as an engineer. He stayed in the service for eight years and left as a Green Beret. Buff Burkel served in the Air Force for 27.5 years before retiring almost four years ago. She is the captain of a veteran hockey team. Clayton Rife has 7.5 years of active duty service. In 2015, he joined the Pathfinders, which is an Expeditionary Unit, as the 101st Pathfinder.
04:26 — Project RELO teaches leadership to top corporate executives and is partnered with the Department of Defense and the United States Army, imparting leadership, training, and skills that have been acquired through the military service of Project RELO instructors.
06:34 — Christian explains how he, Ward, Burkel, and Rife came to know each other, which represents how these lives are intersected. In the moment of realization, Christian, Ward, and Ride noted the power behind stories coming together.
08:56 — Burkel explains the accident she was in, of which she has no memory. Her recollections of the incident are what she gathered from the accident reports.
11:05 — Flying from Burkel’s operating base to NATO headquarters, the helicopter was unable to land where it had intended to. The lead pilot informed the passengers onboard that they would have to re-attempt the landing. While attempting to land again, the helicopter hit a blimp, then the pilot lost control of the aircraft and crash-landed the helicopter on the ground.
17:33 — Burkel recounts that sharing the story of her experience is healing in itself, ensuring that she highlights the resilience and connections it enables.
21:16 — Christian briefly recaps the events that took place before, during, and after Burkel’s accident.
22:37 — Ward describes what led him to invent the Phantom Litter, a widely used, lightweight product that allows for the carrying or transporting of bodies.
25:48 — Christian notes how Ward noticed the need for innovation, as litters were previously heavy pieces of equipment and an additional item to carry — something no military member wants.
27:13 — Rife, who was serving as a Pathfinder at the time, says the group’s primary mission was recovering downed aircraft and personnel recovery. He was a part of the team that responded to Buff’s helicopter that crashed and utilized the Phantom litters that Ward has designed.
31:56 — Christian emphasized how stories such as these often focus on the lives that are lost — not the lives that are saved, which is the power of this story that joins these four people together. Sharing these stories is a means of healing and connecting, which has immense value.
34:13 — Ward emphasizes how playing a part in a story, even if it is small, is still impactful and significant.
35:36 — All contributions made in this story are powerful, notes Christian. It is fascinating to see how these stories connect people.
37:07 — Rife describes how it is okay to take the time to understand and interpret stories that will aid in healing.
38:48 — The sharing of this story represents how often the number of people involved and impacted by these events is overlooked, says Burkle. She continues stating that there is no small part to human experience, and everyone involved played a part in the rescue and recovery of the crashed helicopter. Sharing these stories “helps us carry the heavier parts of our story and its impact on us,” says Burkle.
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