Know Your Neighbor: Eric Pless - Guide to Greater Tampa Bay
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Know Your Neighbor: Eric Pless

Know Your Neighbor: Eric Pless

An Astounding Military Career

Within the 31 years that Eric Pless served in the United States Army and Army National Guard, sacrifices were made and challenges were overcome. Pless feels confident when he reflects on his experiences, knowing that everything happened for a reason.

Pless joined the Army in 1984. While stationed at Fort Hood Texas, he was in the First Calvary Division for two years.

Leadership comes naturally to Pless, and he became a squad leader in basic training. Alongside two other soldiers, he turned his company around and graduated with honors. He left active duty as a sergeant after almost five years of serving.

Just one-and-a-half years later, Pless joined the Army National Guard in Michigan and attended Officers Candidate School. In 2007 he was mobilized for Afghanistan on an embedded training team. Pless suffered catastrophic injuries in a training accident, which prevented him from deploying with his 16-man team to Afghanistan. As a major and deputy team leader, this was devastating for both his team and himself.

Today, Pless can look back and feel confident knowing that everything happened for a reason.

“In life, we might hit a wall… but if we really look at why we are hitting that wall, it’s because we are off the path of where we should be going. I ended up where I was supposed to go,” Pless said.

That place was the country of Latvia. Pless served there as a lieutenant colonel and U.S. Embassy diplomat for three and a half years. He focused on defense policy and training management for NATO and U.S. Forces training in the Baltic region. He also managed the first-ever NATO/U.S. joint deployments of Latvians and Michigan National Guard soldiers to Afghanistan.

Pless was sent to Guantanamo Bay in 2013 as the inspector general. He oversaw the detainee operations to ensure all regulations and policies were followed. He also handled inspections and investigations for Joint Task Force GTMO on behalf of the commanding officer.

Before he retired, Pless became the deputy commander of Camp Grayling, Michigan, the largest National Guard Training facility in the United States. He retired as senior lieutenant colonel.  

A Decorated Veteran

During his service, Pless received two Defense Meritorious Service Medals. This medal is one of the highest awards that a senior officer can receive. He earned one for his service in Latvia and another for his service in Guantanamo Bay.  

He was also given special awards by the Minister of Defense of Latvia and another one from the Commander of the National Guard of Latvia. These awards were given for his incredible contributions to Latvia and in training the men and women who now support NATO’s assistance to Ukraine against Russia.

Helping Other Veterans

Today, Pless serves other veterans by being a part of organizations like the American Legion and the Military Officers Association of America. Pless also works with Team Red White and Blue, a nonprofit organization focused on the mental and physical health of veterans. 

As a wounded veteran, he has worked with the Wounded Warrior Project. He is deeply invested in discovering solutions for veterans who suffer from PTSD.

Life In Florida

Pless brought his civilian sales team to Tampa and Clearwater Beach for a spring sales conference in 1996. That very week, he decided he was going to retire there.

See Also

Pless and his wife, Ieva, moved to Tampa in 2019. Because of the wounds he suffered in 2007, cold weather adversely affects his body. The consistent, warm, sunny weather in Tampa is more agreeable.

Pless is now a USCG Merchant Marine Captain and takes visitors out a few times a week to enjoy Florida’s famous waters.

Celebrating Veterans Day

Veterans Day is a sacred day for Pless. Each year, he takes the day off and celebrates by attending a local veterans’ event.

This year, Pless can surely be found wearing his U.S. Army Retired Pin and his infectious smile that has changed lives all over the world.

By Simone Flanigan.

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