“A Call to Excellence: Cristian Trenco”
Tell me briefly about your background and early years. Where did you grow up?
“I was born in Argentina, in the city of Mar del Plata, it’s a small city primarily dependent on a large fishing industry. My father owned a mechanic shop, and my mother was too busy taking care of my five younger siblings and me. During the late 1990s and early 2000s, Argentina began to go through a socialist movement threatening the working middle class. My father felt that it would limit his children’s future, and he set out to find a country that could live up to our values. Initially, we had looked at the European Union, since my grandparents immigrated from Spain and Portugal, but my father felt the threat of a welfare state had already taken root there. We also considered Australia since immigrating there was based on a point system, and we had a good chance of getting in. Those were the discussions I grew up listening to during my early teens, conversations about individual rights, freedom, and self-determination. One cold winter night, my parents brought everyone together and asked us for our opinion. I remember I was the loudest. During my childhood, I wanted to be a paleontologist, so I argued that the US was the best place to be one. I told my mother, very charismatically, ‘either we immigrate there, now and together, or I will alone as soon as possible.’ We finally moved to the US in December of 2000.”
Why did you join the military? Who or what led you to that decision?
“During our first year in the US, the 9/11 attacks occurred. I remember clear as day; I was in my 9th-grade Algebra class working on triangles. The professor stopped the lecture and turned the TV on. When I arrived home, I found my mother crying, wondering whether we had made the right decision. The immediate threat of terrorism seemed to loom larger than the lingering pain of socialism, and it weighted down in my parents’ minds. I began to collect newspaper clippings, accumulating the context needed to understand the war. The US changed widely after the attacks; our immigration process was frozen in place, the resolution of which took many more years due to those attacks. During those early days, I found myself learning about the US and everything it stood for; I became a voracious reader and a passionate believer in the values that made this nation so great. These heartfelt and consciously selected values made the decision to join the military very easy. I wanted to earn the right to call myself an American and to show this country how much I believe in it.”
What was your job in the Army? What type of training did you have to undergo to be certified for that position?
“I was an airborne infantryman. I completed OSUT and Airborne School at Fort Benning. During Airborne School, I volunteered for Ranger Selection, but I was dropped after an injury during our 4th week in RASP and later assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division. I had the opportunity to deploy to Afghanistan and earned my Combat Infantryman Badge. I believe this award culminated my certification as an infantryman and remains one of the proudest moments in my military career.”
Who are some of the soldiers you worked with that had an impact on your service?
“I was lucky to make like-minded friends fairly quickly in the service. Jacob McInnes and Jake Schrank, men who had goals and ambitions beyond the immediate goals of the weekends. I was even more fortunate for having served with them for most of my time in the Army. We kept each other accountable and pushed each other to pursue our goals. A large part of the Army experience is adjusting to immediate change and overcoming enormous challenges. Very few people are aware of the amount of stress military families go through on a daily basis; most junior soldiers struggle to find a way to build a strong foundation. Without my friends, I would have never developed the resiliency required to perform my military duties successfully.”
When you hear the term “leader” who is the first person that comes to mind?
“General James Mattis. His books ‘Warriors & Citizens’ and ‘Call Sign Chaos: Learning to Lead’ are among the best must-read books for all veterans. His ability to inspire soldiers makes him uniquely influential, but I think that it is his constant call to excellence that truly sets him apart. During my time in the service, I felt the urge for soldiers to be both warriors and philosophers. We are uniquely qualified to live an examined life through our values and to share some of the most profound human experiences we face during our time in service. Our nation is in dire need of leadership, and I believe veterans can make all the difference.”
What was your most memorable experience while wearing a uniform?
“I truly enjoyed every airborne exit. The feeling of weightlessness, the adrenaline rushing up to that very moment before the parachute comes open, it was the most fun I ever had while serving our nation. Afghanistan also had its moments. By far, the most rewarding and illuminating moment was during our partnership with the Afghan Army. Through our translators, I was able to learn about some of their youngest soldiers and their reasons for joining. There is so much ignorant opposition to our mission in that country. Those soldiers have very similar dreams and goals to our own, and many are fighting to establish the same values we have here. I gained a deeper understanding of life through them.”
What taste, touch, or smell symbolizes the Army to you?
“Most days, the smell and feeling you gain from a good workout remind me of the many times I was sweating and hurting in the Army. I remember those moments fondly, and with a sense of purpose and pride. The most important skill I learned in the military was the ability to push through pain in the pursuit of a goal.”
Describe your favorite aspect about life in the Army. Least favorite?
“Most favorite: The sense of everyday adventure. The lack of control over our lives is an immense sacrifice service-members make, but once a soldier accepts it, it can also be completely liberating. There is an infinite amount of opportunity in the military, and every day is a new day for self-improvement. Least favorite: DFAC food.”
How has military service changed you? How have you continued to serve after the Army?
“Military service has been transformational. Before the Army, I had dreams: be this, achieve that, have those. Now, I have goals. The military has inculcated a planning mentality, a grit, and discipline I lacked in my early years. It has opened doors and given me a community of equally energized brothers and sisters.”
“To be quite honest, I have struggled to find the right place to serve. Over the last year, I had the opportunity to become a Service to School Ambassador and mentor young veterans transitioning from the military to higher education. It has been enriching. Still, I haven’t yet found my voice or a more active role, and that sometimes keeps me up at night. We’ll see what the future brings.”
What should the average civilian know about the military?
“Serving in the US military is such a privilege, and such a rewarding and fulfilling experience, no words can truly describe the pride military service brings. Civilians are truly missing an excellent opportunity to become more deeply involved in the state of our nation.”
What is your current position as a civilian, and how did your Army experience prepare you for that?
“I was recently accepted to attend Yale to finish my undergraduate degree. It was my military experiences that distinguished me from other applicants. I can not stress this enough to every veteran I meet; our military service and educational opportunities should be utilized to the fullest. Veterans are uniquely qualified to continue to make a significant impact in our nation after our time in the service.”
“Chili with Beans.”