Patriot Profiles: ‘We try to focus energy on guys we can save’

This column presents “Patriot Profiles” to provide readers insight into the lives of our country’s heroes.

By Jeanne McKinney

The twang of an Ibanez guitar wafts out of a medical tent on Forward Operating Base Nolay, Afghanistan. The music is cathartic — smoothing the ragged edges of Marines serving in Sangin, where the thunder of war and final cries of fallen warriors hover in a sacred, inaudible shroud. Entering the tent, one would see strapping Navy Hospital Corpsman (HM3) Kristopher Krysa, strumming his instrument, who, upon seeing a brother in uniform in a funk, would offer a joke, a silly jig, or even a man hug. For that same brother, taken down in a fight, the strumming ends while Krysa stops a gushing artery, stitches a bullet wound, or pumps his chest to sustain life.

The nickname “Doc Brute” was given to Krysa by his Afghan medical counterparts because of his impressive moustache. “Brute” means moustache in Dari, the national language. Krysa has learned some Dari to assist him as a medical advisor — training the Afghan National Army (ANA) in combat casualty care. An email came to Krysa’s chief requesting personnel for a Security Forces team. He was selected among the best to be attached to 2nd Marine Air Wing, stationed at Cherry Point, North Carolina. He states, “The Marine Corps does not have any medical assets. They’re all provided by the Navy.”

Krysa is moved by his part in the ground work our troops are laying down before they leave Afghanistan. “What’s incredible to see are the Afghans taking the helm…They went from being able to provide no care to their casualties to limited care and now they can handle some severe casualties here without our assistance. We try to be hands off as much as possible and allow them to do all the work.”

He adds, “What’s hard for us, [is] we could easily intervene in some situations and save lives…In no way does that help the Afghans take the lead in terms of providing their own care. If we brought in fancy equipment, drugs, whatever is needed to save patients – and then when we leave, and they can’t sustain those abilities — how are we helping them?

“[We] try and guide them through — asking leading questions — Do you think that guy needs antibiotics? Did you check his back for gunshot wounds? In our area, we’ve only had one Marine casualty. Outside of that, it’s always ANA. They’re performing most of the [enemy] clearing operations …here in Sangin.”

Base Nolay is Krysa’s first deployment. “It’s an awesome relationship — when you’re a corpsman with the Marines, you are “Doc”… there’s a different kind of respect you get and how you’re treated as long as you are competent and capable in your abilities. It’s different than being on the blue side Navy with all Navy personnel — you get lost in the sauce — you’re one corpsman out of hundreds.”

A native Chicagoan, who his mom still calls “the baby of the family,” Krysa’s golden opportunity came via the Navy in 2009. He was working on becoming a firefighter and when he received his EMT certification he became interested in paramedics school but couldn’t afford it. He knew the Navy would give him the education he wanted and he would then, “be able to work alongside people who definitely need it. As a corpsman, we’re trained to do a little bit of everything.” There’s Corps school and Field Medicine School, where he was taught combat casualty care. “You [also] learn about Marine Corps history and traditions and you get more of a mindset to work with the Marines.

“Before I was in the military, I had hair down to my shoulders and was a hippie. [I] decided there’s no point in standing on the side and complaining… when I could help take care of these guys that have volunteered their lives for their country. These are guys I’ll probably talk to until I’m old and gray because the situations you get put in here are a lot different than high school stories.”

Getting caught running from a party doesn’t compare to getting caught in a firefight…

“The main thing,” says Krysa, “is knowing where every single Marine is at. One time we took contact and one of our Marines was shot.”

Doc had positioned himself to get to anyone as fast as possible. “I was able to get to him right away and take care of him.”

His calm actions under fire while treating a wounded Marine coupled with work with the ANA led to a Navy and Marine Corps Achievement medal.

Field medicine is “more aggressive” than stateside emergency medicine, affirms Krysa. “The outside world would not advise using tourniquets. Here, they’re your #1 go-to, because they’re incredible in terms of life-saving ability. It’s a different mindset — we don’t have to deal with as many laws and somebody suing us. You don’t have to worry about that with these Marines.”

Tricky is dealing with the mindset of the wounded. What sounds bad is one of the healthiest approaches, according to Krysa.

“You joke, you laugh about the situation. If [they] wallow too much in it and try to handle it all now, it’s overwhelming and can be distracting. There are amputations, severe gunshot wounds, gunshot wounds to the face, and all sorts of different stuff. If I dwelled on the fact these are human beings getting injured and hurt and don’t think about my job at hand, I can easily get overwhelmed and depressed about human lives being lost. You have to do the job and continue on.”

In a world gone wrong, not every good life can be saved. “When we have to run down and assess multiple casualties for the ANA – that’s hard. We had a well-known Recon officer with the ANA…very respected — he was dead by the time we got there. They (ANA) were trying to get us to do something and we’re trying to tell them, ‘There’s nothing we can do – he’s gone.’ It’s difficult sometimes to get across that cultural barrier…we try to focus energy on guys we can save.”

“Life with him is an adventure,” shares a Marine brother about Krysa, who says, “You make the time pass when you laugh — a lot easier than thinking about how bad things are.” The good Doc gives hugs to lower stress to resistant Marines. “They go from being mad to laughing, then problem solved.” His guitar is his fulcrum or support. “I could sit and play at the end of the day — not think about anything.”

Krysa’s medical bag of skills and tricks do well in a land giving a boot to terror. Doc says, “It’s good to see that spirit and attitude the Marines brought in of wanting to win and push the Taliban out of the area has passed over to the ANA.”

The adventurous Doc Brute, along with his adopted Mr. Potato Head (also sporting a moustache), can be seen in his You Tube video “Morale, Mission First.”

“Your attitude is what you start with every day,” he says. “You wake up and decide whether you want to be a grump or choose to make a change – to be better.” To chase away the dark clouds of war, HM3 Kristopher Krysa reminds his brothers, “We are making a difference. I know it’s hard to see sometimes, you don’t want all this to be for nothing – all the lives that have been lost in this area to be for nothing.”