MADISON COUNTY, Ala. (WHNT) - Retired Army Lieutenant Colonel and Washington State native Adrian Erckenbrack's military career has spanned decades and taken him everywhere from Berlin, Germany at the height of the Cold War, to Bosnia, Kosovo, to his capacity as an A-Team Green Beret Leader during the Desert Shield/Desert Storm conflicts, to Capitol Hill and the Pentagon.
Erckenbrack would later serve under Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld as a legislative liaison between U.S. Special Operations Command and Senate & House Congressional staff. His expertise would also see him into capacities as a Congressional fellow, as well as advisory positions under Senator Joe Lieberman (D) of Connecticut and ultimately Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison (R) of Texas.
"That was demonstrating my bipartisanship," Erckenbrack joked of his time on Capitol Hill.
The Special Forces Colonel would then go on to run his own company, Defense Technology Solutions, for a decade, helping businesses both small and large transition their technologies to meet modern Department of Defense and Department of Homeland Security requirements.
"I thought 50 would be a great age to retire, Erckenbrack laughed, "But I tried and did not succeed." He says he got bored and went back to work.
Erckenbrack is currently the Vice President of Global Business Development for Silver Eagle MFG out of Portland, Oregon.
Of all his vast experience in combat theaters all over the world, one of Erckenbrack's most harrowing days happened after grabbing coffee, and attending a rote, daily morning meeting in one of the most secure facilities on the planet. Erckenbrack was working inside the Pentagon on September 11, 2001 when American Airlines flight 77 was flown into the building, killing all 64 people on board including 5 hijackers and 6 crew members, and 125 Pentagon employees.
Erckenbrack and others immediately sprang into action in attempts to aid the injured. Alongside a doctor who had walked down from the interstate following the impact, the 2 men returned to the impact point of the aircraft. Through scorching smoke and piles of debris Erckenbrack heard a man screaming for help from behind an office door that had swollen and sealed under intense heat.
"I backed up against the wall on the other side and took a deep breath, stood up, ran and just put a shoulder into the door," Erckenbrack remembers. "At the very same time I came in and landed prone on this side, a gentleman just fell face first but he was on fire from head to foot."
After Erckenbrack extinguished the man, he did his best to remove the badly burned man from the building by raising the victims arms above his head and dragging him out.
"He was burned so badly on his arms that his skin actually pulled away, sloughed off like you would pull a glove off. So we, uh" -- Erckenbrack stopped while recounting the incident, paralyzed by emotion.
Once removed from the building, Erckenbrack and others would try to render medical aid, but with 3rd degree burns over his entire body, the man died right before their eyes.
Erckenbrack and hundreds more then spent hours aiding FBI agents collect evidence while helping first responders and fire department personnel feed hose through the massive gash in the Pentagon. Erckenbrack recalls wading in water up to his knees amid blinding smoke and cumbersome rubble, to see body parts float past him. The imagery of the empty Pentagon courtyard and vacant metro station when he finally made his way home that night are specters Erckenbrack says will always haunt him.
"What I was, was not a hero. I was guy that was at the wrong place at the right time. If you want to call someone a hero, call all the wives, sons and daughters who live without their father or mother who died that day on 9/11 a hero; they carry that burden everyday."
On November 10, Erckenbrack and 5 others will be inducted into the Madison County Military Heritage Commission's Hall of Heroes. It's a distinction the career military man say he does not take lightly.
"To me, to be among men and women like that really is a sense of honor, a sense of brotherhood; it's a sense of service."