State Rep. Paul Curtman, R-Pacific, believes those who choose to represent a constituency should do so not for the vanity of personal gain, but rather "to protect each American's individual rights."
These rights, Curtman said, are derived from the Constitution and represent the principles he fought to defend while serving in the Marine Corps, and continues to do so at the state Capitol.
A 1999 graduate of Pacific High School, Curtman says his introduction to public service began when taking his oath of enlistment in the Marine Corps.
"Like many young men," he said, "I wanted to be a Navy SEAL. But my dad had been in the Navy and told me if I was injured and didn't make it through the program, I could wind up as a cook on a ship."
Though such a revelation may have tempered his desire to pursue a naval career, Curtman realized he could still "be the one to kick down doors" if he were to go to war by enlisting as an infantryman in the Marines.
Attending boot camp in San Diego after leaving high school, the new enlistee traveled to Camp Pendleton, Calif., graduating in early 2000 after he had been medically retained for a few weeks to recover from some minor training injuries.
He then traveled to Hawaii to join up with Company G, 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marines, a helicopter assault unit with whom he would spend nearly three years.
While there, he became a certified Marine Corps martial arts instructor and deployed twice - the first time in December 2000 when he trained for several months in Okinawa and later in Australia.
During this timeframe, he went through jungle warfare training and participated in a large-scale multi-national war game exercise named "Operation Tandem Thrust."
"Shortly after I returned to Hawaii," Curtman said," September 11th occurred." He added, "I was on the rifle range at Pearl Harbor when I learned of it and once I got back to base, I was integrated into the security operations ... basically standing post 12 hours a day at Camp Smith."
The young Marine recalled how confusing things seemed while the military scrambled to assess the level of threat posed by the attacks. However, Curtman's world quickly came into focus as his company began to train for what they realized would be a deployment to the Middle East.
In late 2002, after a brief stint of training in Okinawa, Curtman traveled to Bahrain where - for the next five months - he was assigned as a guard aboard a Department of Defense ship that provided fuel and supplies for naval ships later used to stage troops for the invasion of Iraq.
"There never seemed to be a dull moment," he said. "Whether we were performing rescue operations for immigrants stranded in boats to firing warning shots to maintain a protective perimeter - there was always something happening."
He returned to Hawaii in April 2003 and, in a few months, was discharged from the Marine Corps.
For the next two years, he lived in Florida and attended Pensacola Christian College, but in 2005, returned to Missouri to be closer to his family. He enrolled in the University of Missouri-Saint Louis (UMSL) and then enlisted in the Marine Corps Reserves.
Curtman graduated from UMSL in May 2008 with a bachelor's degree in political science, continuing his reserve service until his enlistment expired in 2009.
"The private sector was calling my name," said Curtman, regarding his decision to end his military career. "It was time to move on."
The first stop in his civilian career began with Edward Jones - an endeavor that lasted little more than a year after an unexpected encounter with his congressional representative provided the stimulus for his political pursuit.
While attending a town hall event hosted by Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., Curtman "said a few words" that were recorded, later going "viral" over the internet and landing him several interviews on stations such as Fox News.
"I was contacted by a gentleman with the state Republican Party who asked me if I was interested in running for office," Curtman said.
First elected in 2010 as the representative for the state's 109th District, Curtman is now serving his second term at the state Capitol. Last month, he experienced one of the most profound moments of his life thus far when he was married to his fiancÃ©e, Ruth, whom he met through his church.
Maintaining a sharp focus on his legislative responsibilities, Curtman believes the time he serves representing his district in Jefferson City is, in simplest terms, a continuance of the mission he began while in the military.
"Once I left the Marine Corps," he said, "I entered the world ready to serve as a productive member of society. It provided me with a work ethic, developed discipline and it really prepared me to think outside the box ... to be ready to complete any mission I was given.
"Whether you're a 17-year-old in body armor serving in Iraq or sitting in an air-conditioned office here in the Capitol, what we are striving to accomplish should not vary."
He concluded: "We both have the same mission: to fight for the peoples' freedom."
Jeremy P. Ã„mick writes on behalf of the Silver Star Families of America.