Pickelsimer, a major in the Marines, is back in the United States and continues to call Marietta his home. He is a 1991 graduate of McEachern High School.
Pickelsimer began his career in the Marines at age 28, and he has been climbing the ranks ever since. He was recently awarded a Bronze Star to commemorate his long history of dedication to the Marines and his unusually large number of deployments.
When Pickelsimer, 41, came back from a tour in Afghanistan on June 4, his family welcomed him home.
“A dad could not be more proud,” said his father Don Pickelsimer, of Marietta, a project manager for Manhattan Construction.
Eric Pickelsimer now lives in Las Vegas with his wife of 10 years, Jenny, and he plans to move to Oklahoma soon to continue his work with the Marines. In Oklahoma, Pickelsimer will teach new members of the Army and Marines about artillery tactics.
“I’m working day to day with young Marines, and that’s what I’ve always wanted to do,” Eric Pickelsimer said.
Pickelsimer said one of his main missions with the Marines was to train Afghan soldiers. Afghanistan citizens had joined the Afghan Army to serve their country and get a paycheck, he said, but they didn’t have any experience. That’s where Eric Pickelsimer came in.
Over his multiple deployments, he has worked with the Afghan Army and helped soldiers learn artillery tactics and how to plan missions.
“To see how far they’ve come is amazing. They’re doing their own operations, planning their own operations now,” Pickelsimer said about his most recent trip to Afghanistan. “It’s been a complete 360, and in most places (the Afghan Army is) independent and successful.”
Pickelsimer, who has had firsthand experience with the U.S. tactic of entering underdeveloped countries and training their armies, said he agreed with the way he fought the war.
“I’ve always believed in the mission that we’ve had, and I believe in how we’ve been fighting these counterinsurgencies, training the host nations,” he said. “That’s how it’s going to be won.”
Pickelsimer has always been a teacher at heart.
Before he joined the Marines, he volunteered to teach high school students the sport he had loved at a younger age — wrestling.
“There was a space in between: he became a community coach, which is an unpaid position at McEachern High School,” his father said. “During that same period, he worked with mentally handicapped students at McEachern.”
His father said his son has always been there to help anyone in need.
“The underdog and the guy who’s least likely to succeed are the ones he’s most likely to help,” Don Pickelsimer said.
His father thinks Pickelsimer’s background in wrestling is what gave him the strength to help others.
“Here’s the thing about wrestlers, they’re very mentally tough,” Don Pickelsimer said.
After high school, Eric Pickelsimer said, he had thought about joining the military, but then he decided against it. He went to college at Georgia State University on a wrestling scholarship and earned a degree in criminal justice.
After college, he thought about joining the military again, but then pushed it off saying, “There’s other things I want to try right now. The Marines can wait.”
But then an event that shocked the country pulled him toward what he’d always thought about doing.
“Then Sept. 11 happened, and that’s when I joined,” Eric Pickelsimer said.
He was sworn in to the Marines seven days later, on Sept. 18.
“Having talked to every recruiter, I thought that the Marine Corps was the most disciplined of the services, and that appealed to me the most,” he said. “It was the biggest challenge.”
Pickelsimer chose the Marines, even though his father, who served in the Army during the Vietnam War, advised against it.
“I had seen how the Marines live in combat. They are incredible people but they live very dangerous lives,” Don Pickelsimer said. “I’d seen them sleeping in the mud, and they’re called on to be the front-line guys and it’s a dangerous world.”
Eric Pickelsimer said once he was in the Marines, all he wanted to do was get deployed.
“Being deployed and working with Marines is the highlight of any Marine’s career or existence,” he said.
Every mission he went on made him more excited for the next.
“I’ve been very fortunate with the deployments I’ve had, the people I’ve worked for, the assignments I’ve had,” Pickelsimer said.
With every deployment, he kept rising up the ranks, from officer, to 2nd Lieutenant to major.
“Being a military man myself,” Don Pickelsimer said, “I know it’s not easy to stand out, and he continues to do that.”
The hardest part of Eric Pickelsimer’s constant tours, which include three in Iraq, two in Afghanistan and one at sea, was having to be away from his wife.
“I’m fortunate enough that my wife ... she’s not the type of wife that is looking to homestead somewhere. She’s eager to move and go to new places as well. We look forward to the moves,” he said.
Now, because Eric Pickelsimer will spend the next two to three years living at home with his wife and working to train young members of the Army and Marines, he will make up for time lost.
“It’ll be good family time for us, and that will be the first time I’ve had that,” he said.
His father said his long military career, which has yet to come to an end, has made his family proud.
“You have hopes and aspirations for your children and then when they excel above and beyond, which he and his sister have both done, you’re very proud,” Don Pickelsimer said.
Eric Pickelsimer said he’s not finished with deployment. After spending a few years at home, he wants to continue his military career overseas because he enjoys it.
“I was never going to go in and look at this like a career, I was only going to do it as long as I like it,” he said.
His father said he’s achieved his destiny.
“He has never been a quitter,” Don Pickelsimer. “Once he starts something, he sticks with it. I think the Marines was the job he was born for and he is a Marine true and true.”