IRAQ/ KUWAIT –
Enjoying a hearty meal on the dinner table, sleeping on a comfortable large-sized mattress, bathing in clean and warm water – these are simple pleasures usually taken for granted in the modern day world. But what is part of everyday life in one part of the hemisphere is an absolute priviledge and rarity in many other countries. This all became very clear for a woman in her (now) mid-thirties when all she wanted to do was fight for her country during a feverish time of utmost uncertainty, a time when the United States and Iraq were at war.
Back in 1997, there was no greater honor for Krystal than to represent her beloved land of the free. While serving in the Oregon Army National Guard, she was sent on active deployment to Iraq in February 2003. Many may wonder why she decided to trade her home (where she left behind two beautiful children) for a war zone of havoc and chaos. But to Krystal, this was her national duty and that which was required of her as a citizen.
“I decided to go because I was a leader and you don’t just send your soldiers off to war while you stay home in the safety of the USA,” explains Krystal. “I was the platoon leader for a group of 35 engineer soldiers, my rank was 1LT first lieutenant.”
What was initially expected to be a few short months serving overseas turned into 46 weeks – a life-changing yet heartbreaking year to say the very least. Krystal’s daily routine in Iraq/Kuwait began as early as 6 a.m. with construction projects that would help “win the hearts and minds” of Iraqis. From repairing village roads to fixing water pump stations to upgrading orphanages, anything that would provide the Iraqi people a slightly better way of living in a demolished, war-stricken country.
“I saw so many beautiful people caught in struggle they had no control over, children selling chewing gum and pirated porno in the streets to make a little money … women and children walking for miles to haul back buckets of water … and the murders of the ones who dared to assist the Americans in the struggle.”
As time went on, these devastating, real-life images became hauntingly terrifying visuals Krystal could not shake from her mind – and a reminder of the far cry from the tranquil lifestyle back home.
Along with the rest of her platoon, days and nights were spent situated on an old airbase in Mosul. Krystal notes it wasn’t uncommon to hear incoming and outgoing Blackhawks and cargo planes and blasts overhead. An unimaginable horrific ordeal that left many on the ground unsteady and in fear of their lives.
“The night sky would reflect the tracers from bullet rounds being shot overhead and the whistle and subsequent boom of incoming mortar shells, each one with the hope that the sender was shooting blind in the dark and we wouldn’t end up in pieces in the next moment,” describes Krystal.
Living day in and day out with this hellish nightmare and agonizing terror eventually took an unbearable emotional toll, leaving this mother-of-two feeling greatly depressed and alone while missing her daughters terribly.
In January 2004, Krystal and her fellow soldiers started to make their way back to the base camp in Kuwait, and by March she was reunited with her family in Fort Carson, Colorado. But this time she was a completely different person – both mentally and emotionally – and soon, she realized, everything around her had also changed.
Krystal says she began drinking her problems away, crying every day, turning to the wrong things for comfort, and lashing out at her daughters for no reason at all. Eventually, even her own marriage came to an end. Sometime later, she finally could put a name to what was causing her this never-ending heartache and pain: Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, aka PTSD. However, she has been able to tackle her devastating memories of Iraq/Kuwait head-on through constant therapy and support.
Today, more than six years after coming back from war in Iraq, Krystal has a greater appreciation for life and a unwavering gratitude for the blessings she has.
“I don’t take anything for granted anymore,” she says. “I think everyone needs to travel the world and see how other people live. Don’t take for granted that you’re safe in your own home, that water and electricity always exist in homes, that you’ll have enough food to feed your family, etc. Be thankful for what you have and try to help someone else who may not have as much.”
This 36-year-old may have been to the ugliest depths of the Earth, and seen a terrifying and heart-wrenching world most of us will never even come close to. But she has been graced with a humble heart and the strength to see anything through. A true force of life – wise yet unafraid she stands.
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