When Krystyne Wilson’s husband, Kirt, decided to go active again after being in the U.S. Army Reserve, Wilson didn’t want to sit on the sidelines. So, in January 2006, she also enlisted in the U.S. Army.
Wilson was trained as a medic in San Antonio, and Kirt was stationed at Fort Hood in Texas. When they had passes, they were able to visit each other. Soon, they were able to be together again as the two of them were deployed to Camp Victory in Iraq where they spent the next 16 months working at the Whitmer Troop Medical Clinic.
“I always wanted to be in the medical field because I just really enjoy helping people,” Wilson said.
It was an entirely different atmosphere in Iraq, and Wilson said she was grateful to have her husband with her, as it was his second deployment, and he was able to let her know what to expect and to calm her when she got nervous.
They lived together in a unit with several other married couples and a set of brothers.
“The first night we were there, there were like alarms going off and faraway mortar sounds, and he was able to calm me down and say, ‘Those are really far away. Those are nowhere near us.’ He had that experience that I didn’t, and there were a lot of other new soldiers with me that I may have been shaking in my boots with someone else,” Wilson said.
Being deployed together, however, also came with its drawbacks. While there, the couple's camp experienced two mass casualty events that left Wilson on edge, wondering if her husband had been among the injured.
During the first mass casualty event, the camp’s dining facility was hit by an incoming mortar attack during mealtime.
“There were a lot of injuries. Some people died. Some people lost parts of their bodies. There were service members who just suffered a lot of ringing in their ears because they were inside this enclosed space and just the sound and the screaming,” she said. “There was a lot of ringing. I remember going in there, and it was just really intense.”
Wilson’s job was to administer first aid to those who were injured before they could be transported to a higher level of care.
During the second mass casualty event, the enemy attempted to mortar Wilson's army base, but the wind was very strong that day, and the mortars ended up hitting a soccer field full of civilian children right outside of the base.
“There was a mother who lost all of her children … We had patients, one adult and one child, with abdominal eviscerations. We had a 6-month-old baby who had shrapnel in his intestines. He had been dropped by his mother accidentally during the incident, some broken bones,” she said. “We just kind of patched them up and sent them on up to the next level of care.”
When the couple returned from their time overseas, Wilson worked as an instructor at the Fort Hood medical simulation training center where she trained others to become medics or keep up their skillset. The training she helped put together aimed to mimic experiences soldiers would experience overseas, and it was intense, she said.
During the outdoor simulations, the setting mirrored an overseas city. There were fog machines that represented dirt being kicked up, and sounds played that were similar to noises that would be heard overseas, such as calls to prayer.
The soldiers would be tasked with securing a perimeter during a mass casualty event where they would carry mock weapons as heavy as the real ones and would have to rescue mannequins and administer care.
“They would find a new patient or several patients depending on the scenario, and there would be instructors over them – because these were mannequin bodies – that would say, ‘OK, your patient is bleeding from the neck. They’ve suffered this kind of injury.’ And they may play the patient and say, ‘Oh, man, doc, my leg hurts.’ You’d have to try to calm your patient while at the same time addressing your patients' needs.
“And we never leave our soldiers behind, so then you’d have members on your team carrying these very heavy mannequins around. As a whole, I feel like the army really did a good job in training not just the medical staff but the soldiers in general on what to do to take care of other service members that are hurt while they’re deployed or stateside,” she said.
Wilson’s time with the army ended in September 2009, and she used the GI Bill to become a registered nurse. She attended Indiana University Kokomo. Afterward, she worked in Carmel in a bariatric progressive care unit.
This year, Wilson made another career change and opened Sweet Peas Play Café in Kokomo on Plate Street. The center serves as a place where parents can gather while their children play.
Looking back, Wilson said she learned a lot from her military experience.
“I was able to take some management skills that I had and really take them to the next level,” she said. “It was a lot about taking the focus off of yourself and thinking of others first, and I continue that now whether that means placing the needs of my children above myself, placing the needs of my husband above myself, or placing the needs of members of the community about myself. I’m always striving to serve people.”