Erik Bartell is a millennial who has already done two tours of duty in Afghanistan.
On his very popular Instagram, which has more than 16,600 followers, his tagline describes exactly who he is: "Husband | Father | Combat Veteran… ⚔️ Iron Sharpens Iron."
Now based in Nashville, Bartell is working with Bravo Sierra, which makes performance-engineered products for members of the military and civilians, and it's stepping up amid the coronavirus pandemic.
He told Fox News: “We have been primarily sending our antibacterial wipes with the option of our soap to the National Guard Soldiers that are being deployed to support the coronavirus. While the wipes do not kill the virus because they do not have alcohol they are an added layer of defense at this point with supplies running low everywhere.”
Guardsmen have been standing at the ready nationally for missions such as building hospitals, organizing medical corps or assisting law enforcement.
This week the National Guard was activated in states that have been hardest hit by the virus, which has caused havoc across the country and shuttered much of daily life.
On Thursday, more than 200 U.S. Army soldiers were deployed to New York to provide a “full range of health care services” to the state fighting the most coronavirus cases in the country.
The number of confirmed coronavirus infections worldwide topped 600,000 on Saturday as new cases stacked up quickly throughout western society and officials dug in for a long fight against the pandemic.
The latest landmark came only two days after the world passed half a million infections, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University, showing that much work remains to be done to slow the spread of the virus. It showed more than 615,000 cases and over 28,000 deaths.
The U.S. now leads the world in reported infections -- with more than 104,000 cases.
Bartell is ready to lead, having had a rough start.
“I grew up in the city of Chicago. I never knew my father and an abundance of my childhood was spent either homeless or trying to avoid it. From an early age I was conditioned to put one thing before all else: survival," he said.
His military service taught him how to be a man in times of trouble.
He explained: “There’s two types of leaders in the Army, those that lead from the heart, and those that lead from the rank on their chest. Throughout my entire career, I did my best to be the former. And my Soldiers would follow me into the depths of hell because of it. I led the most lethal platoon on the entire 101st Airborne Division. The most lethal platoon in the most deployed, and most decorated unit in the entire Army. Our team fired on all cylinders. We moved, shot and communicated more succinctly than 90 percent of the Army and we did it because I demanded it. I demanded it of myself. I demanded nothing less than greatness of myself, not for myself but for the soldiers I led, because they deserved it. And in turn, they held themselves to the same standard. Often times leaders today look to receive credit and give blame. I learned early in my career that as a leader you are required to give credit and receive blame. You look out for your men and protect them from ridicule. Because by doing right when no one is watching you are creating a reputation that will precede you.”
He has taken his leadership back to civilian life.
The motto of the company he now works for: “We believe the U.S. military established the original wellness lifestyle -- optimized physical and mental fitness, founded on a unifying ethos of respect, service and integrity. We develop critical innovation performance products in direct collaboration with those that deserve it most -- our active duty service members.”
Active duty is where he learned to tame the ego and reach a higher level to lead from a sense of teamwork and cooperation.
“Throughout my career, I found that a lot of leaders did things for themselves and not for those that they were supposed to be leading," he said. "This is probably the most important lesson you can ever learn in leadership. Some call it servant leadership, I just call it leadership. When you lead men, they come before you. I learned this the hard way in Afghanistan. My platoon sergeant was a high-speed E-6 that had been put in charge of the platoon because there [were] no E-7s that could do it. This was his fourth deployment and he had seen his fair share of shit. He used to tell me his boots had more deployment time that I did -- He wasn’t wrong. The first time I went to the chow hall I grabbed a tray and got in line to start grabbing food. My platoon sergeant grabbed me by the shoulder and politely asked me, ‘what the hell do you think you’re doing.’ I must’ve looked like a deer in headlights. ‘Getting food,’ I replied. ‘The Soldiers eat first, sir.’ That’s all he had to say. I felt ashamed and knew I would never learn that lesson again. From that point on, no matter how scarce food was, no matter if I didn’t get to eat at all, which happened on multiple occasions, my Soldiers never went without food because of me. And this leadership principle extended far beyond food, it meant I would never send my Soldiers to do something I myself would not do. I would never ask my Soldier to assume risk I would not assume. It meant if my Soldiers were cleaning the floors, packing sandbags, sitting on guard, I would be right by their side at least for part of it.”
He’s now a civilian looking to help society and community, in big and small ways, from Tennessee.
Said Bartell: “I left the Army because I was ready to continue my legacy. Since I left the Army I ran a veterans nonprofit. I became a personal trainer, trained celebrities across the country and ran the most exclusive training facility in the nation. I consulted with million- and billion-dollar organizations on team-building and leadership. I helped transform the lives of thousands of veterans who were lost. I connected with a major celebrity who identified with our mission and raised millions of dollars around it. But my most important accomplishment in my short life thus far has been that I had a son. I now weigh my actions from the perspective of my son. Will he be proud of his father. Am I creating or compromising memories. My values have never been stronger than they are today. I have never been more certain of my impact on the world and the legacy I will leave my son. Leadership can mean many things, but to me leadership means taking care of those around you -- not because you have to, but because it’s the right thing to do.”