FORWARD OPERATING BASE NOLAY, Afghanistan - The Mr. Potato Head toy with an oversized mustache stands next to an American flag hung above three flak jackets in the medical tent. One of the flaks belongs to a sailor with a mustache to rival that of Mr. Potato Head, a corpsman nicknamed “Doc Brute.”
Petty Officer 3rd Class Kristopher Krysa, 27, from La Grange Park, Ill., a corpsman and medical advisor with Security Force Assistance Advisor Team 2-215, was selected as the Regional Command (Southwest) and Brigade Headquarters Group-Afghanistan SFAAT Junior Sailor of the Quarter. This came as no surprise to his supervisors and peers, who have seen him go well above his daily tasks, to the point of assigning himself duties, to ensure the safety and well-being of everyone on or around Forward Operating Base Nolay.
“He’s committed to mission first, sailors always,” said Navy Lt. j.g. James M. Nicholson, 33, from St. Petersburg, Fla., 2nd Brigade medical advisor, SFAAT 2-215. “He’s a young petty officer that really gets it. He understands how to take care of the mission and how to take care of sailors and Marines at the same time, anything from taking care of combat casualties, calling in medical evacuations, general patient care and sick call for our Marines.”
Every day, the medical staff goes onto the Afghan National Army base near FOB Nolay to advise and assist in patient treatment. Although Krysa, who is stationed out of Camp Lejeune, N.C., is of a lower rank, he is respected by the ANA personnel and shares his medical expertise.
“He’s the best of the best,” said Petty Officer 1st Class David Morales, the senior medical advisor of SFAAT 2-215. “He goes out there and advises medical staff, ANA medics and doctors. He gives them advice and training. There are points in time where he has to intervene and help them with the treatment of patients. I’ve been in charge of many corpsmen before, and he outshines them all by far. He’s very knowledgeable and a great trainer.”
Krysa, who has been at FOB Nolay for more than three months, shares a closeness with his counterparts in the ANA 2nd Brigade, 215th Corps, due to his professionalism, his knowledge and his incredible sense of humor. They gave him the nickname “Doc Brute” due to his large, thick mustache.
“He’s highly respected by them,” said Morales, who was overjoyed to find out Krysa was selected as the junior Sailor of the Quarter. “They value his opinion when it comes to anything such as trauma, medicine, preventative medicine or training.”
Krysa, who is scheduled to be in Afghanistan until June, inadvertently commands respect from his ANA counterparts by showing his respect for them with every opportunity. He teaches classes to the ANA medics, which cover trauma treatment, casualty evacuations, and preventative medicine and offers feedback after a patient is treated to help them further progress. His relationship with them has made for a leap in the 215th Corps medic’s ability to treat patients.
“It’s an honor to work alongside them, especially the guys who really want to see change in their country,” said Krysa, who went to college to become a fireman and has an associate degree in fire science as well as an emergency medical technician certification. “I think the ANA have a hard road ahead of them. They definitely welcome all the help from us, and they’re not hesitant. They’ve been fighting for hundreds of years and for the last 12 years, fighting an enemy that’s hard to figure out who or where they are. They’re tough. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from the ANA, it’s that they define ‘warrior’ in a totally different way.”
Upon nearly every meeting with the ANA, someone comments on his mustache and they all share a laugh about it. Many of them greet him with a huge smile and an even larger hug.
“With the Afghans, you start off with a handshake when you first get here, your hopes are that you work up to where you can hug them and build that friendship,” Krysa said. “That’s friendship. That means they’re right there beside you. It means a lot in their culture to get to that level. It makes me feel safer, too, knowing they like me and want me around. I try to always bring them in for that hug.”
Another task Krysa has assigned himself is the role of morale booster of the FOB. Although he spends much of his time training Marines in preventative medicine, he always makes sure they walk away with a smile.
“I like to keep morale high,” said Krysa. “I like to always be someone Marines will come to for a laugh or whatever they need. I try to never be that guy who’s bothered by things, it drags other people down, too. It’s easier to get your mind off stuff if you have something to laugh about.”
Krysa, who is taking courses to become a physical therapist, also offers the Marines roadmaps to physical recovery with the physical therapy programs he created for injuries and setbacks. In addition, he also designed physical training programs for some of his peers due to his love for Olympic weightlifting and CrossFit.
“We had a sergeant here with really bad Achilles tendinitis, and with his knowledge of physical therapy, he got him back to running, lifting weights and squatting in no time at all,” said Morales, a 14-year sailor from El Paso, Texas. “He’s our expert in physical therapy. Our team is really proud of him, and they respect him a lot.”
While on FOB Nolay, he received a Navy Achievement Medal for his hard work and diligence. His excellent performance in the treatment and evacuation of a wounded Marine and dozens of Afghan soldiers over the last few months has placed him in the spotlight.
“He’s really a rockstar,” said Col. Christopher Douglas, the team leader for SFAAT 2-215. “Each and every day between training, advising and assisting, our medical section is doing a phenomenal job. They see a number of casualties, and they’re working closely and enhancing the effectiveness and efficiency to treat patients here in the 2nd Brigade.”
Krysa grew up in a competitive family with two older sisters. They were taught to always work hard because they were never going to be handed anything, without earning it. Krysa also has a wife at home, whom he says is handling the deployment well and is extremely supportive. Her family sent out Christmas cookies for the whole team on FOB Nolay, and they were a big hit according to Krysa.
Krysa decided to join the military after going on a bicycle trip across the U.S. at 21 years old. It opened his eyes about all his country has to offer, and he decided he wanted to offer his country something in return – his service.
“I realized how lucky I am to live in a country where I don’t have that many worries and people are extremely kind,” Krysa said. “I needed to give back somehow, and the military was the best opportunity.”