Navy Cmdr. Bill Krissoff in 2009 - Photo by Cpl. Thomas Provost
CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. (7/25/2011) - The Navy was never where Cmdr.
Bill Krissoff thought he'd be. Not at 18, and certainly not at 60.
But, in fall 2007 he shuttered his orthopedic practice in a mountain
resort town near Reno, Nev., and donned the uniform he stills wears
It wasn't that life in Truckee, Calif., was bad. For
an avid outdoorsman, it was the perfect spot for Krissoff and his
wife Christine to raise their two sons.
“We were close
growing up,” said Austin Krissoff in an email. “Dad, Nate and I took
frequent summer trips together. We established a pretty fun trio for
doing ‘man things' - powder skiing, whitewater kayaking and
No, life in Truckee was good. Until Dec. 9, 2006
- the day his youngest son Nathan, a Marine first lieutenant, was
killed in action near Fallujah, Iraq. The 25-year-old was the
counterintelligence officer for 3rd Reconnaissance Battalion.
Call to service
Krissoff said the events of 9/11 deeply affected both of his
sons and they both responded to the call to service. Nate,
who majored in international relations at Williams College,
joined the Marines in 2004.
“He joined because he
deeply believed in the importance of service and for
citizens of this generation to do their part,” Austin said
of his brother. “He was not content to sit inside the
Beltway at a think tank and write about foreign policy
without having actively participated in its execution.”
Austin followed his brother, joining the Marine Corps in
2006 after he graduated college. He was at officer candidate
school about to graduate when he got the news about his
Their service was an inspiration to Krissoff.
After his son's death he started to prefer the company of
people who understood the sacrifice and valor that comes
with serving. “There's almost a chasm of those people who
serve or who have families who are in the service and those
who are not,” he said. He thought about joining himself.
That idea solidified when Nate's commanding officer, Lt.
Col. Bill Seely, spent a few days in town visiting families
who had lost Marines. Seely talked about the battalion
surgeon who took care of his Marines forward. Such a role
was appealing to Krissoff.
Joining the Navy wasn't a
decision made lightly. He talked it over with his wife,
Christine, and Austin. He sought the advice and support from
“The friends that we had were very
encouraging ... I only had one doc that I knew fairly well in
Reno that told me I was crazy. And he had been in the Navy,
so maybe he knew something I didn't,” Krissoff said.
Once Krissoff decided to join, he faced another challenge:
Although the Navy desired his professional
skills, and he was physically fit, the recruiter wasn't sure
he could get a waiver to join someone nearly 15 years past
the cut off age.
The breakthrough came when former
President Bush, who often met with families of the fallen,
was in Reno in 2007. There Krissoff asked former President
Bush directly for the wavier. It was only a matter of days
after that Krissoff had the paperwork he needed.
Krissoff didn't join the Navy for closure. “Closure” is a
term he takes exception to – a word people who've never
experienced loss use, he said. For him, being a Navy doctor
meant a chance help a group of people he has endless respect
for stay in the fight.
“It's their strength of
character, courage, their unit cohesion, their bravery,
their skills and their dedication that are unimaginable to
people who do not know about our military,” he said.
over a year after receiving his commission, Krissoff
deployed to Iraq. His son Austin was also in theater. “I
felt like in my mind, we were finishing what Nate started
up,” he said.
“This was a non-kinetic and different
mission than when Nate was there in 2006, but it was
important in order to strengthen the security gains made
during the [Anbar] awakening and the surge,” Austin said. “I
vividly remember turning off the lights and closing the door
to my office, which I thought was symbolic of concluding
years of rotations of Marines whom had bled and sweat to
make our eventual departure possible.”
orthopedic specialty leader wanted to ease Krissoff's into a
world radically different than Truckee, something Krissoff
says was a good call. “The average orthopedist that goes to
Iraq or Afghanistan is going to feel really out of their
element.” Even though the conflict in Iraq was winding down,
his deployment prepared Krissoff for the much more volatile
After experiencing deployment from both
sides – home and away - Krissoff said deployments are harder
on the families to a certain extent. “The deployed person is
working. They're focused. But the family has a lot of
emptiness in those evening times.”
Austin agreed. “It
was difficult for my mom because Dad and I were gone at the
same time. I didn't appreciate how hard this was, to be at
home, until Dad departed for Afghanistan in 2010.”
Almost immediately after returning from Iraq, the
opportunity to deploy to Afghanistan arose. Although the
timing wasn't ideal, Krissoff volunteered to go.
Never to be duplicated
Krisoff's deployment to Afghanistan started at Camp
Bastion, a major base in southern Afghanistan for the Brits
Blast injuries, especially from
improvised explosive devices were the main injuries Krissoff
saw. Second were gunshot wounds, and then third was
“everything under the sun.”
Whatever the injury,
Krissoff and his team provided the best care they could. He
says it was a new experience being a part of a
multi-national team but “the busier we got, the better we
“The best care is: you come to
Bastion's hospital with a heartbeat as a Marine, you have a
99 percent chance of surviving and leaving Bastion
alive...These numbers are truly remarkable in the history of
combat trauma surgery,” Krissoff said.
second half of his deployment, Krissoff served in western
Helmand province at Forward Operating Base Delaram Two as
part of a shock trauma platoon and forward resuscitative
Even though the team was very mobile –
everything they needed could be crammed into a conex box –
Krissoff said they had ER capability supported by several
general surgeons and ER doctors.
The forward location
revealed to Krissoff the lack of medical care available to
the population in Afghanistan. People would show up at the
front gate with injuries from car wrecks, bus wrecks, bomb
blasts, or snake bites, he said, because there just wasn't
any place else to go. His team took care of them all.
There were times the person they were treating was
likely the enemy – stories sometimes didn't match injuries.
“It's difficult. [But] you do what you need to do. That's
part of our job, and we give the best care to our enemies.
That's what we do. We do not prioritize, and we do not hold
back on the care,” said Krissoff.
challenging conditions and situations, Krissoff said he was
fortunate for the opportunity to deploy.
"Afghanistan, as I told my surgical team as we left Bastion,
was never to be duplicated," Krissoff said. "It was probably
the most rewarding time of my orthopedic career, and it was
horrific, intense, and challenging - all at the same time.
The blast injuries sustained from IEDs during dismounted
foot patrols were clearly the most devastating injuries we
The road ahead
Krissoff is now at Naval Hospital Camp Pendleton
treating patients, mostly Marines, doing what he did
forward: getting them back to duty.
received a promotion to commander at a ceremony in the
Pentagon. Maj. Gen. Larry Nicholson, who was Nate's
regimental colonel in Fallujah, presided over the ceremony.
Christine and Austin pinned on the rank. Friends, family,
and some of those whom he deployed with were there too.
Krissoff says that his time in the military is probably
winding down, but he'd still like to do some short terms
deployments as a reservist – maybe to Africa, Ukraine or on
the Navy's hospital ship USNS Mercy. He'd also like to
continue doing orthopedic evaluations for reservists
returning from deployments – something he enjoys.
Although the death of his son changed the course of his
life, Krissoff says what came out of it was an unexpected
“I'm just a doc that was fortunate to be
able to use my surgical skills in a deployed setting to care
for injured Marines, sailors and soldiers,” said Krissoff.
“I'll be sad when I'll hang up the uniform, I'm sure.”
By USMC Staff Sgt. Brian Buckwalter
I Marine Expeditionary Force
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