By Spc. John Crosby
4th Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division
TAJI, Iraq – The men and women of the U.S. Army often sacrifice a lot to serve their nation. Many leave behind a great deal, whether it be a family, a job or a dream house.
A Ford sales representative turned combat arms leader, 1st Lt. Tyson Kampenhout followed his ambitions to accomplish something in his life that he can look back on someday and be proud of. He enlisted in the U.S. Army and served in Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Kampenhout began to feel blessed that he is an American when he participated in a humanitarian mission to the former Soviet Union in 1991 and 1992. He and another American distributed food and water to the people of that country.
Kampenhout heard gunfire during the communist coup in Minsk, capital of the modern-day Belarus. He was approximately a mile from the battle. He knew that he was living in a place and time that were going to make history.
"It really gave me an appreciation for the freedoms we enjoy and the things we take for granted in our country," Kampenhout said.
Kampenhout said he felt he owed his country something after seeing what life was like in another part of the world. He told himself if he ever had an opportunity to serve and make a difference he would.
He attended college after the humanitarian mission and received degrees at Brigham Young University, where he majored in psychology and became fluent in Russian, and Wayne State University in Indiana, where he majored in international marketing. He became an executive marketer for Ford Motor Company and bought a home with his wife in northern California.
"My wife and I achieved the American dream," Kampenhout said. "When we first got married, we had a combined income of $9,000 a year. We both paid our way through college, bought the nice house and shiny cars."
Kampenhout remembers watching "Band of Brothers" and seeing the interviews with the members of Easy Company and how they remember the war with a sense of pride. Kampenhout wanted that sense of accomplishment.
"I remember being stuck in traffic and feeling like I was stuck in the rat race," he said. "I wanted to do something that I could look back on when I'm 80 and feel like I've made a contribution to society."
Kampenhout was 30 when the war in Iraq broke out.
"When the war started, I remembered the promise I made to myself about doing my part to serve my family and my country," he said. "I never had intentions of making a career out of the military. But all the rest of the Soldiers are doing their part and volunteering. Our military's strength is that we all volunteered to be here and contribute."
"Even though I had a good job and a chosen career path, it didn't relieve me of my obligation to serve," Kampenhout added.
Kampenhout brought the idea of joining the service up to his wife.
"I told her I wanted to serve and asked her if she would support me," Kampenhout said. "At first she was incredulous. We had come all that way and it wasn't her first choice for us as a couple. But she has been super supportive and has never said anything negative about my decision."
Kampenhout realized that he was about 10 years older than most of the Soldiers volunteering for the military, and he was about 20 pounds overweight. He was an athlete in high school, but he hadn't run a mile in over 10 years. Kampenhout joined a gym and worked out everyday. He lost the weight and met the Army's height-weight requirements.
Kampenhout and his wife sold their $400,000 home. Mrs. Kampenhout stayed with family in Salt Lake City, after Tyson enlisted in the Army and attended Basic Combat Training.
Kampenhout completed Basic Combat Training and the Officer Candidate School 2004. He went on to complete the Infantry Officer Basic course and Airborne School 2005.
A special bonus to serving in the Army. Kampenhout and his wife had been married eight years but, hadn't had any children before he joined the service. Today, the couple has one-and-a-half year old twins.
"I have a give-and-take relationship with the Army," Kampenhout said. "I gave them one life and they gave me two."
Kampenhout is now stationed at Fort Lewis, Wash., with the 4th Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division. In time, he became the platoon leader of 1st platoon, Company F, 52nd Infantry Regiment, which deployed to Iraq in April.
"When he first arrived, he was motivated to be in the Army and eager to learn," Capt. Troy Mills, commander of Fierce Company, said. "You could tell he was a little older and more experienced in the civilian world. His maturity level is high, and I think the troops took to that."
Kampenhout's skills acquired before joining the military have proven resourceful in Iraq.
"We relieved (a Georgian unit) guarding a bridge over the Tigris River in As-Sindiyah," Kampenhout said. "We had no interpreters and no means of communicating. I was able to communicate with them because I speak Russian. I acted as the interpreter on several occasions when high-ranking officials would come to the bridge."
Kampenhout learned how to communicate on a basic level with the Iraqis in Arabic as well, and he often acts as a diplomat when interacting with Iraqi government and local tribal leaders.
"He's a guy that goes out there and gets information from almost anyone," Mills said. "He has an ability to deal with Iraqi government personnel and never feel out of place. For a platoon leader that is outstanding."
Kampenhout gave up a high-paying job and dream home to join the Army, but he said it's worth it.
"We don't live in as nice of a house as we used to or drive as nice a car," Kampenhout said. "But when I'm older and I look back, what will I think? 'I had a nice car and nice house,' or 'I lead men in combat.'
"I was challenged and overcame adversity. I helped – instead of watched -- a country stabilize and secure a future. I will look in the mirror and have respect for myself due to the strengths that I developed through the Army. As opposed to coming home and saying that I saved my company a lot of money today, I can say I saved someone's life today, or I helped put a bad guy away today. That has a more infinite value than shiny cars in ritzy neighborhoods. You can't put a value on that."
This work, Man seeks accomplishment by serving in U.S. Army, by John Crosby, identified by DVIDS, is free of known copyright restrictions under U.S. copyright law.