One man fought at the frontline in Iraq, the other fought crime and evil within this country’s borders. Both were drawn to duty by the horror of 9/11.
Mike Gallardo and Eric Basek have both gone above and beyond the call of duty to serve and protect the citizens of this country.
Independently, their actions and their examples are genuinely awe-inspiring. Now that they have joined forces, there is no telling what they will accomplish next. While they may fit seamlessly together, their stories are too big to fit in one piece. So we broke them into two parts, and we begin with Eric:
Eric Basek was a volunteer EMT in his quiet New Jersey town. He embarked upon the collegiate path, settling into his studies until the day that altered the course of this country also altered the course of his life.
The smoke and fire, destruction and devastation of 9/11 did more than shatter lives; it ignited simmering flames of greatness within this nation. Everyday people became heroes as they rushed into burning buildings to rescue others, as they fought back on hijacked planes, and as they left their own families to respond to these sites. Eric Basek and his father were among those who dropped everything to respond to the chaos at Ground Zero.
He spent days working alongside his father, also an EMT, passing buckets along the line amidst the rubble of the towers. The experience changed Eric, and he knew he was meant to do more. Trading his books for a uniform, Eric embarked on a Law Enforcement career. Within a few years he’d graduated from the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center.
For the next eight years, Eric worked in some of the most dangerous areas of Washington DC, where life and death scenarios were regular occurrences. He then graduated from the SWAT school as the Top Graduate.
Washington DC is a far cry from the quiet life in Sussex County NJ, where Eric had lived. The leap from a crime-free environment to the violent situations he was now in, was huge. “I was ill-prepared for Washington DC,” Eric says, “so I wanted to do something that would help be safe.” That is when he found Krav Maga.
The military self-defense and training system was developed for Israeli Defense and Security forces. It is the baddest of the bad-ass self-defense training there is, and Eric excelled at it. He quickly rose from student to teacher, and realized he’d found his next purpose. Once again he stepped off his present path to travel a new road. This time he left Law Enforcement to launch his own business. Today he is the owner and operations director at Blue Titan Fitness and Self Defense Center in Rockaway, NJ.
American Snippets visited Eric and Mike at Eric’s facility.
Eric Basek and Mike Gallardo at Blue Titan Fitness in Rockaway NJ
The parking lot and sidewalks surrounding Blue Titan teem with people seeking or maintaining their fitness goals. Anyone entering the facility passes through these people and immediately recognizes the unspoken message that Blue Titan is no joke. Cross Fit classes and weight rooms are visible just beyond the front desk bearing healthy snacks and a smiling staff member greeting all entrants. The air pulses with determination and the ceiling vibrates with the concussion of more bodies upstairs doing more badass things.
A modest but well-utilized room upstairs lies covered in mats that are covered in people that are covered in sweat, entirely focused on their instructor who is taking them through their training. Eric took American Snippets past this class and into his office as we continued our interview.
The two men, each impressive in their own right, both seem less aware of their own accomplishments and impact than they are of the other’s. It is Mike who shares the information about Eric earning Top Shot in SWAT school. It is Eric who points out Mike’s indomitable spirit and the value he offers with others. Back and forth they go, until satisfied that the story is told.
With Mike standing by, Eric, explains the great satisfaction he gets when teaching Krav Maga to Law Enforcement Officers across the country. This training, he knows, equips the officers with an extra tool to face the violence in their jobs. The ability to physically de-escalate a situation before lethal force is introduced by either side is invaluable. Additionally, the psychology of fighting is just as important as the ability to fight.
“All the skills in the world are as useless as a snow shovel in Mexico if you can’t call upon those skills when someone is attacking you,” Eric teaches.
He goes on to explain that someone robbing you at gunpoint is not looking to financially invest their loot. Rather they are doing so for the immediate, easy reward and probably a little bit of the thrill, too. These criminals don’t tend to target prey that looks challenging. They focus on the victims that present the least threat and the most promise. Likewise when deciding whether or not to engage in violence against a police officer.
“They’re not going to look for the hard target,” Eric says. Police Officers who perform routine traffic stops with confidence can cause someone contemplating a violent response to reconsider that decision, and decide against it, if it appears they have less of a chance of succeeding. The Police Officers who train with Eric – usually at no cost – leave that training with more confidence and enhanced odds at avoiding unnecessary violence.
Eric Basek is passionate about offering this training to Law Enforcement Officers…
so much so that he raises money to offer this training for free. He is equally committed to our country’s wounded warriors, and his organization, the Stay Safe Foundation, serves both. But his training also extends to the civilian world.
School shootings, vicious bullying, and random methods of tormenting or assaulting others often dominate newsfeeds. Eric’s training now offsets these threats both by his classes at the facility and by coming directly to schools. It is not uncommon for Eric to get a call from a teacher or a guidance counselor with their own children in school, asking Eric to come teach Krav Maga’s self-defense techniques to that school’s staff.
Eric thoroughly enjoys training athletes and police officers, but he also thrives on teaching people who may not normally work out, or are recovering from injury, and he takes pride in helping schools equip their staff with a last resort method to defending themselves and students against violent attacks. Students who learn Krav Maga are also less likely to become victims of bullying or assault, as they not only have the physical means to defend themselves but project themselves with a confidence that unnerves less confident predators.
Now a highly sought-after teacher, Eric travels the country to train others.
When he’s not traveling, he is hands-on in his facility and working on his new apparel line. This would be enough to keep any husband and father too busy to donate any more time, but Eric still manages to carry out one more special mission.
Eric’s decision to leave his career as a law enforcement officer should never be confused with a diminished call to serve. This call does not begin and end with his Brothers in Blue, but extends to those who wear this country’s uniform.
He and Mike have created a unique and invaluable informal pre-bootcamp program for young marine recruits who have successfully navigated all recruitment procedures , are officially members of the United States Armed Forces, and now await shipping off to bootcamp. Known as “Poolees,” these new recruits are typically between 17-19 years old.
Some have been blessed with happy childhoods in loving homes, others are on a first-name-basis with tragedy or hardship, yet none of them are fully prepared for the transition between civilian and Marine.
Eric and Mike donate their time to work with these Poolees on weekends. They simulate bootcamp and introduce the young recruits to their new reality before it becomes their everyday life. Nothing is held back. The recruits are broken down and rebuilt as a team.
They are motivated, inspired, and strong upon reporting to Marine bootcamp, having had the opportunity to transition under Eric and Mike’s guidance. These recruits often seek Eric and Mike out after bootcamp to thank them, fully aware of the enormous advantage they were given.
Although certainly entitled to copious amounts of respect and thanks for his service and selflessness, Eric neither seeks nor receives the recognition one would imagine.
This country as a whole is only recently recognizing the enormous debt owed to our men and women who serve honorably in the Armed Forces and is caught up in a damaging volley of anti-law enforcement movements.
The media is quick to report on individual offenses committed by rogue officers yet disproportionately slow to share stories of heroism or simple human decency displayed by the majority of law enforcement officers. This is particularly the case in instances with racially flammable ingredients, which become whipped up into a lethal cocktail served to the public.
Police officers are being ambushed and murdered by people who use these stories as a call to action, while leaders of some movements claim ignorance.
Eric remembers one specific incident when he was out and about. A man came up to him, hand extended and smile flashing, saying Eric looked like someone who has served in the military, and thanking him for that service. Eric returned the handshake and smile, explained he was a law enforcement officer, and thanked the man. “Never mind,” snapped the man, pulling his hand away and turning his back on Eric.
“We definitely get overlooked a bit. Maybe some of it is our fault. We may separate ourselves a little from the people we serve. That’s part of why I do community service,” says Eric.
One workshop, one encounter, one training session, one fundraiser at a time is building into a new movement. Eric Basek is pushing back against unnecessary violence, poor community relations, and apathy not simply by words, but by example. Stay tuned and be sure to check out featured article on Mike Gallardo.