HORRY COUNTY, SC (WMBF) – A man who served as a major in the Marine Corps is continuing his service as the chief of police at Francis Marion University.
Veteran Don Tarbell's 22 years of service started with basic training and included time in Iraq, and Guantanamo Bay shortly after Sept. 11, 2001.
"We were the military police detachment that got Camp X-Ray set up," Tarbell said. "So to be able to be part of an operation so important to the global war on terrorism that came up from the product of 9-11 … (it was a) great honor for us to go over there and do our part.
Tarbell was then deployed to Kuwait in 2002. His time there included riding in convoys, standing guard around the clock as the mission started and dodging RPGs.
"It's really, it's hard to describe to somebody who wasn't there because you can watch it on TV, or even you can read a book, but you got to be there to really see it and really know what goes on, and that, just the whole surreal aspect of it," he said.
His wife, Courtney Tarbell, is very proud of her husband's service. She proudly said she did all the work to first pursue him after spotting him on the road when he worked for the South Carolina Highway Patrol. That included asking her mother to speed to get a possible ticket in exchange for an introduction.
"She wouldn't do it naturally so I wrote down the license plate numbers, stalker status I guess, called a few friends from the courthouse and said, 'Hey, just, I know who that trooper is,' Courtney Tarbell said. "So I text him, and I said, 'Hey this is Courtney. If you want to go out, give me a call.' And about five minutes later, my phone rang. Just been together ever since."
The couple have two boys at home, ages 9 and 6. Their children share the respect their father has instilled in them.
"They both wanted haircuts like their father when he was away, so we got it done," Courtney Tarbell said. "I cried a little bit because they had longer hair. But their daddy love it when he came back."
Her husband spent an additional 17 months stationed away with only short monthly visits with family.
Now, he takes pride in serving others as police chief at FMU. However, Don Tarbell's real happiness comes at the end of the day.
"Seeing the joy when you pick them (his children) up and getting the chance to spend time with them, I think that's pretty cool," he said.
Ultimately, the couple hopes their story reminds others to thank those who've served.
"These men and women are putting their lives on the line every day and giving up their freedoms to protect our freedoms," Courtney Tarbell said.