It’s not easy to become a U.S. Army Ranger. To be a successful Ranger, you need to have a strong sense of self, be physically fit and mentally strong. You have to be able to push yourself further than you imagined possible, and then you have grit your teeth and low crawl a little further. You are expected to pass grueling schools after basic training, to include Airborne School and the Ranger Assessment and Selection Program (RASP, formerly known as RIP).

Curtis and his daughter

Many that make it through and excel had parents that pushed them growing up, physically and mentally. Many were athletes in high school and college, and already had a sense of discipline and work ethic before they got into the Army. It made sense then that they would strive to be in one of the most elite units in the military–they have the natural drive to succeed because they were given those tools growing up by people who cared enough to mold strong, smart men.

Curtis Albers had no such upbringing. At the age of 6 he called the cops on his own mother as he, his brother and infant sister were being criminally neglected. He then moved from abusive foster home to abusive foster home–13 in total. As a young child, he would spend nights in the freezing rain because his foster parents kicked him and his sister out on the porch; he was beat with a stick, left in a hot car for an entire day and even made to clean a toilet with his tongue. Curtis was subject to verbal and physical abuse, constantly berated with demeaning racism and would be diagnosed with PTSD long before he ever joined the military.

He finished up high school, and so the foster care check from the government stopped coming to his foster “parents.” They gave him two weeks to get out, and he found himself a homeless teenager for 6-7 months, bearing a cold winter of Minnesota on the streets. A woman by the name of Jan would take him in, nurse him back to health and get him on the path to join the military.

And so he did, and while he was there he excelled. In basic training, he heard of Ranger Battalion and wanted to push himself to those heights. That drive took him through Airborne and RIP and soon he was deploying to Afghanistan and Iraq.

Curtis with his wife Julia. They currently live in Germany together.

Curtis was a victim of horrible abuse, but he never victimized himself. He took the hand he was dealt and decided to make something of it. The English Oxford Living Dictionary defines the American Dream as the “ideal by which equality of opportunity is available to any American, allowing the highest aspirations and goals to be achieved.” For a young child, shivering in a tool shed in the Minnesotan winter, starving from little to no food for days and yearning for any sliver of affection–to one day be a part of an elite brotherhood that spans across the globe must have seemed like a dream. But he persisted. He never gave up and his “highest aspirations” became a reality.

All images provided by Mr. Albers