By Lt. Egdanis Torres SierraMarch 6, 2017
KABUL, Afghanistan (Feb. 14, 2017) -- Near his heart, he places a tiny stuffed tiger his daughter gave him for protection, and fearlessly, he marches forward to another day of imminent danger which is filled with the unknown.
Because according to him, sometimes we have no option but to embrace the things we fear the most.
For the past year, Carl B. TenBrink wakes up every morning 11,925 km away from home. Radio? Check. Sixty-five rounds for the M-9? Check. Two-hundred forty count ammunition for the M-4? Check. Combat medical equipment, plus two or three grenades? All check.
Sounds scary? But, his biggest fears began to set in 10 years ago.
He'd lost his job as a mechanic in Michigan when management made sweeping job cuts as part of a dispute with local labor leaders. For months, he fought alongside his coworkers on a possible strike and negotiations to save their jobs. He struggled from the lack of income and need to find a similar job.
"It was really bad," Carl recalled. "Imagine the fear of not being able to provide for your family. The fear of going home to your family who look up to you, but you are emptyhanded, debating between paying rent, or buying food."
Tragically, the Michiganian realized after the loss of a friend who died in an accident while working that no matter what happens in your life the world will continue to rotate, with or without you.
Then, in 2001, he watched on television as the two tallest buildings in New York City crumbled to the ground with thousands of people still inside. He knew he was destined for more.
His first inspiration came from his grandfather, retired Tech Sgt. Burton TenBrink Sr., an Army veteran who served in World War II as a tank mechanic and, he said, never let the hard times slow him down. The same is true about his father, retired 1st Lt. Burton TenBrink Jr. who also served in the Army as an officer with the Army's 1st Cavalry Division.
"My father [TenBrink Sr.] saw horrific fighting during World War II that he never spoke about. All I know is that he had to fix tanks with body parts still inside them. But, he kept strong. He did not let anything stop him," said TenBrink Jr. "I followed his example and so did my son, Carl."
Carl echoed his words.
"I look at the picture of my grandfather in his uniform and I feel so proud to be his grandson. I stand tall because of him and my dad." he said. "I knew where to go when I was feeling lost because of them. I wanted to wear the uniform they both wore in service to our country. And I fought to earn that honor."
And he did.
Enveloped by the things almost any person would fear the most, he decided to reclaim control of his life and join the proud pedigree of TenBrinks to serve in the U.S. Army.
Carl was sworn into the Army Reserves in 2003. Six months later, he entered active duty and in 2007 was selected to join the Criminal Investigation Division. In 2009, he was promoted to warrant officer, the very same rank his father so honorably once wore. It has now been 14 years since he joined the military.
"Carl is good at his job because of his attention to details," his father said. "But, what makes him really special is his heart. During basic training, he met someone who wanted to commit suicide and he talked him out of it. He was going to be presented with an award and he declined it. He said he could not accept it because he was doing his job."
Today, after two deployments, Carl is the trusted personal security agent for Maj. Gen. Richard Kaiser, who commands Combined Security Transition Command -- Afghanistan, a unit of hundreds of military service members, charged with helping the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces become a self-sustained military.
"I have to talk to everyone from Afghan ministerial level leaders, to international ambassadors to young Afghan Army and police members, and I must be confident that my team and I will be safe. With Chief leading my Protective Services Detachment -- I execute every engagement with confidence and I am thankful every day that he has my back, 24/7 -- 365," Kaiser said. "I am proud to serve with him and I know that his family is very proud of him too."
Kaiser also expressed that his trust in Carl is not just a blind faith. It is based on the trust and confidence Carl has earned by being an absolute professional in every regard.
"When I get ready every morning and check my gear, it is not about me. I am getting ready to safeguard others," Carl explained. "I get ready to protect at all cost a general who exposes his life every day [to harm] to keep my family back home free of fear."
After all he's been through, Carl isn't scared by this dangerous duty. In retrospect, all of the fears that he had to overcome set the stage for a greater future that would also influence the steps and decisions of his eldest son.
Senior Airman Benjamin D. TenBrink recently reunited with his father in Afghanistan after spending two years apart due to their busy military schedules and staggered deployments.
"When you grow up, you never imagine that you are going to end up seeing your dad in Afghanistan wearing the same uniform and engaged on the same mission," Benjamin said. "Just like my grandfather inspired my dad, my dad inspired me. I volunteered to be here. There is no other place I'd rather be right now but here, following the footsteps of my dad."
Today, father and son are sharing unique experiences in a war zone. They both wake up every morning 11,925 kilometers away from home, but grateful of a past that led them both here.
"I've faced ups and downs in my life but I would not change that past for anything. I was tested but I won. My past led me here. I am now part of a proud lineage of TenBrinks to serve in the U.S. Army dating back to WWII," Carl said.
Burton Jr. is proud of his father's role during Second World War, and of his son and grandson who are serving their country today in Afghanistan.
"I pray for you every day. Embrace fear and do not let it overcome you. I am proud of you both, Carl and Benjamin."