Many service members choose to be military “lifers.”
Why? Well, for many reasons. But one could be this: Just like private-sector workers, service members can completely switch up their careers, sometimes transitioning into a role they never expected.
That was the case for Air Force Master Sgt. Lance Tressler. He wanted a change after 10 years as a chaplain assistant in the Chaplain Corps, and he was chosen for a special-duty assignment as a political defense attache for the Defense Intelligence Agency. The position, which pretty much made him part of an ambassador’s staff, eventually took him to Budapest, Hungary.
Tressler believes his capacity for empathy and ability to connect with people was why he was chosen for the deployment.
An Important Mission
While in Hungary, Tressler visited a World War II prisoner-of-war camp, where he witnessed remains of a soldier being repatriated back to the U.S. He was also part of the team that oversaw the return, which included accompanying the remains back to the airport tarmac.
On another assignment in Austria, Tressler said he was called by the Army’s 3rd Infantry Division to assist with a Liberation of Salzburg commemoration ceremony. The Mauthausen Concentration Camp, located in Salzburg, Austria, was liberated in 1945.
In Mauthausen, prisoners were designated for extermination through intense labor as opposed to prisoners being executed by firing squads or gassing. The Mauthausen Concentration Camp was the last to be freed by the Allies.
“This was a big weekend for us. We laid wreaths at the crematorium, and last year, we actually got to walk arm in arm with survivors from the camp though the Mauthausen gates,” Tressler said. “Certain areas of the camp, from the quarry’s Stairs of Death to the Bergkristall Tunnels, still carry a distinct lingering smell of death.”
Walking out with the survivors filled him with pride, Tressler said, but it also made him question, “Why me? Why do I get to be here at this time [and] given this honor?”
Again, he believes it came down to empathy and his ability to connect with people. The Mauthausen survivors were from Poland, and he doesn’t speak Polish. But listening to them tell their stories and seeing the tears and emotions on their faces let him know exactly how they felt.
“Those are moments you don’t forget,” he said.
Tressler explained it from a spiritual aspect.
“There are a lot of negative things that happen in the world,” he said. “You can call it evil or the devil being responsible for it, or you can look at it as an opportunity for the love of God to come out. If you can help one person, you can make a difference.”
All Good Things Come To an End
Tressler’s defense attache special assignment ended, and he has since returned to the Chaplain Corps as the 21st Space Wing chapel superintendent. He said his experience with the WWII survivors was one of the most fulfilling experiences that encourages him daily.
“I learned a lot and recommend the experience to anyone,” Tressler said.
Since joining the Air Force, he’s earned two degrees and served 13 years in Europe. He has a lot of plans for his future, but for now, his duties as a chaplain assistant demand a large part of his time.
Tressler left these parting words of encouragement for young airmen: “Stay encouraged. The military is but one voice of the government in which to serve your country. There are a lot of cool things you can do to serve and broaden your career. Don’t get frustrated. This is but one part of your journey, so stay planted where you are. You’re there for a reason.”
This blog was adapted from an article written by Robert Lingley, 21st Space Wing Public Affairs.