CAMP ARIFJAN, Kuwait, Aug. 31, 2011 -- Sitting at a desk in the corner of a tent is a staff sergeant with a big smile and a bigger heart. This staff sergeant made a commitment to serve this grateful nation 23 years ago and never deterred.

Staff Sgt. Steven Randall Tirsell, heavy construction equipment operator supervisor, Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 15th Engineer Battalion, Schweinfurt, Germany, and a Petaluma, Calif., native, enlisted in the Army and never looked back. After a six-year stint in the National Guard, he went active duty.

At the age of 15, it was evident to Tirsell's parents he wanted to join the military. Two years later, he brought a National Guard recruiter to his house who tried to talk him out of enlisting, but his stubbornness won out. He knew the military was the only place he wanted to be.

His sworn oath to face all enemies, foreign and domestic, became a reality when the twin towers in New York and the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. came under attack on Sept. 11. Tirsell and members of his platoon waited eagerly to see if they would be called to help with recovery operations.

"We didn't really start snapping into recovery mode until the towers were ready to fall. There was no way we would have gotten down there in time to put the fire out."

Tirsell's unit worked to get all their construction equipment ready to go in the relief efforts, but the unit was told they were not needed.

"We had all the vehicles dispatched and loaded up at the gate in the motor pool ready to go. As the events unfolded, the news kept showing all of the equipment pouring in from cities in New Jersey and Connecticut was being turned away."

To him, like many other Americans, the fact that our country was attacked on its own land was hard to fathom.

"It happened in this country or that country, but you would never think it would happen here," said Tirsell.

Since Sept. 11, Tirsell has seen a change in the way the military conducts training.

"We have totally changed our uniform and our tactics to a more technical side of training as opposed to field training," said Tirsell, "They figure we spend most of our time over here anyway."

Being deployed with Third Army in Kuwait marks Tirsell's third deployment to the Middle East.

"His experience in the war zone is what makes him an asset to the battalion operations department he now supports," said Master Sgt. Kirk Sandles, battalion operations sergeant, 15th Engineer Battalion, and a Houston native.

"I met him in a training rotation in Hohenfields, Germany," said Sandles. "His platoon sergeant wasn't there, and Staff Sgt. Tirsell was the senior non-commissioned officer on the ground."

When Sandles approached Tirsell with some basic questions, he was impressed with what he heard.

"He had the answers for everything," said Sandles. "He broke the answers down to me in layman's terms as to why it was done like that, the way he felt it could be improved and the recommendations for the platoon sergeant."

"Tirsell is very experienced. He still understands his role as a staff sergeant, and he will make a good senior NCO. His experience and strict, by-the-book rule works for him. That's his leadership style."

In the 10 years since the attack, Tirsell has kept the promise he made to himself to stay in the military for at least 20 years.

"I have always been told in the military that you constantly teach your replacement, and that's what I try to do," said Tirsell. "I don't hold any of the information for myself."

Third Army continues to train Soldiers through NCOs like Tirsell: NCOs who diligently work to shape future operations and help improve Third Army's mission. Through continual training and forward thinking, Third Army is always poised to shape the future of any contingency U.S. forces may face.