Tim Erdmann and his 7-year-old son had decided to stay close to the dock at Brookville Lake.
The skies were a little dark that day during their “boys weekend,” but the wind was great for pushing their 25-foot sailboat. Until it wasn’t.
Rain started pouring and the wind kicked up into a full storm.
The sails had to come down quick, and Tim Erdmann knew it was a two-man job. He looked at his son Chris and called for help.
“You’re going to have to hold on to this tiller,” he told Chris. “You’ve got to hold this straight.”
With a determined look, Chris wrapped his small arms around the tiller and held on tight.
“He was diligent enough and courageous enough that I remember that to this day,” Tim Erdmann said.
The sails came down. They rode out the storm. Twenty-five years later, Chris Erdmann has served in the Coast Guard, the Air Force and is now at the helm of an ambitious project bringing medical care to Syrian refugees in Jordan. Since June, the project has been on the ground visiting refugees door-to-door, tent-to-tent, offering basic medical treatment.
Crisis Relief OverSeas (CROS) was born in an apartment in Israel this April. Chris Erdmann, an Anderson Township native, like thousands of other U.S. veterans, was working as a defense contractor along with Flavio Gallegos and Freddy Torres. Torres had interviewed Chris Erdmann for his podcast, Hired Gun. Erdmann spoke about his work as a contractor in Kosovo and a philanthropic project he did with the Roma community.
After that, inspiration struck. Erdmann wanted to create a veteran-based organization dedicated to providing medical care to those affected by conflict.
Erdmann reached back out to Torres, Gallegos was brought on board and the following months were a blur.
“We often wouldn’t sleep,” Torres said. He explained they were all still working while they worked CROS in their time off.
“We couldn’t find a white board, so we used the sliding glass door in my apartment,” Torres said. “Chris was the driver for everything.”
After two months of nonstop preparation, the group had enlisted the help of a few more people including Ashraf Goussous, a Jordanian pediatrician, and permission for the group to work in Jordan.
While the group worked tirelessly to get CROS off the ground, the Syrian refugee crisis was beginning to get international attention.
Erdmann recalled saying before they left that “there’s so much stuff going on right now, all we have to do is show up.”
In a town five miles from the Syrian border in Jordan, Erdmann and his team saw the searing effects of war on the people pouring out of the country.
“Every single family has a story, and that story is horrendous,” he said. “They’re forced out of their homes. They’ve watched family members die.”
Erdmann said it’s especially emotional working with children, many suffering from such severe post-traumatic stress disorder that even seeing the color red can cause them to break down.
A daughter in one of the families CROS worked with had begun cutting herself and attempted to throw herself out the window of the apartment she was living in.
“All she talks about is seeing dead bodies, the police, the army and people getting shot,” he said. “As they were fleeing Syria, she saw bodies stacked on top of each other.”
Aside from providing both physical and mental health care to the refugee family, Erdmann also hopes to mend attitudes that those in the region have toward Westerners.
“People are getting a completely different perspective of Christians and Americans,” he said. “When they actually get a firsthand experience of dealing with an American, let a alone an American that’s served in the armed forces, they’re completely shocked. They’re very welcoming. You can tell their whole perspective has changed.”
Stateside faith and action
Diana Erdmann said her son’s faith propelled him to help people since a mission trip in high school.
He attended Moeller High School, where his father has worked for 28 years. Their connection with the school has led to a CROS fundraisers.
“He just keeps going,” Diana Erdmann said. “He has faith that things are going to work out.”
The couple has been working at home to help set up new fundraisers to support their only child’s effort. Tim Erdmann is officially the vice-president of the nonprofit.
CROS has a secondary mission of helping another group affected by war: those Americans who served in the military.
“There’s a void after you get out,” Torres said. “Everybody says vets are valuable. We hear it all the time, but never see it.”
Torres explained that many veterans are most comfortable outside their comfort zone, which led him and Erdmann and others to defense contracting.
“There’s a calm in the chaos. You find your true self,” said Torres, who hopes CROS is “an opportunity for some vets to fill that void.”
While the nonprofit has mobilized in the past year, Torres has been surprised at how many veterans want to get back overseas in a more philanthropic capacity.
“For guys like Chris, it’s not just what they know, it’s what they believe,” he said. “It’s bigger than what we ever thought it would be.”
An upcoming fundraiser on Dec. 4 at Moeller will allow people to meet the members of CROS who’ve been working in Jordan.
The event will help CROS meet a $100,000 goal that will help continue their operations. Another fundraiser is planned for June at Haspin Acres.
If You Go Box – Wine & Craft Beer Event
Friday, Dec. 4, 7-10 p.m., VIP admission at 6 p.m.
Archbishop Moeller High School
9001 Montgomery Rd, Cincinnati, OH 45242
Meet UFC Fighter Matt Hamil
Craft beer provided by MadTree
A gourmet taco car, Dewey’s Pizza, and live entertainment by Out of the Blue, Madison Rising and Ayla Brown.
Tickets available here.
More information at www.crosinitiative.org