Cancer Can't Stop Guardsman From Deploying
by Maj. Robert Taylor
Idaho, Army National Guard
June 9, 2021
Cassandra Cridland has known her husband, Sgt. 1st Class Wayne
Cridland, since junior high.
“The thing to know about my
husband is he’s just committed to life,” she said. “Whatever he’s
doing in the moment, he’s fully committed to that. If he says he’s
going to conquer something, you might as well stand out of his way.
He’s going to do exactly that. Whether it’s cancer, going on a
deployment or mowing the yard.”
Cridland was diagnosed with
Stage 4A squamous cell carcinoma in February 2009. In September
2010, he deployed to Iraq with the Army National Guard’s 116th
Cavalry Brigade Combat Team in support of Operation New Dawn.
Army National Guard Staff Sgt. Wayne Cridland at Camp Victory in Iraq on January 18, 2011. Cridland deployed with the 116th Cavalry Brigade Combat Team in support of Operation New Dawn in September 2010 after spending 2009 fighting cancer. (Courtesy photo by Wayne Cridland)
“That’s what we train to do,” Cridland said. “As an NCO, I didn’t
want another NCO leading my guys into combat and being responsible
for them. If something happened to them, I didn’t want that
responsibility on someone else’s shoulders who hadn’t spent a lot of
time with them.”
Cridland said the cancer started in his left
tonsil and then spread to the left side of his face, jaw, tongue and
neck. His doctors proposed an aggressive treatment plan that gave
Cridland an 85 percent chance of surviving. For eight weeks,
Cridland was to receive radiation every day and chemo every Monday
for five hours. Cridland said he had an IV port inserted into his
heart to accept the chemo because the heart’s vessels are bigger
than other blood vessels, which allows them to handle more damage
from the chemo.
At seven weeks, Cridland said the treatment
was causing him more harm than the cancer was, so his doctors had
him take a week off. At that time, his chances of surviving dropped
to 14 percent.
Cridland finished the last week of treatment
in June and said he was given six months to live. He had shrunk in
size from 190 pounds to 124 pounds while receiving treatment. He had
a feeding tube for nearly three months because scar tissue from the
radiation made it impossible for him to swallow. After it was
removed, he had to learn to chew and swallow again. His doctor
wasn’t sure he would be alive for Christmas. Cridland had other
plans. He quickly went back to work and working out.
him I didn’t have time for that and I was too dumb to die,” he said.
“My wife absolutely wouldn’t let me quit. Every time I got down, my
wife was there to remind me I had things to live for and keep me
Cassandra said she deals with stress by walking and
that while Cridland slept after treatment, she’d walk nine or 10
miles a day.
Cridland said he only missed drill once due to
the cancer. He was hellbent on deploying with his unit, the Idaho
Army National Guard's B Company, 145th Brigade Support Battalion,
even as doctors told him they didn’t think it was possible.
“By the time he finished treatment, he needed something he could
face head on,” Cassandra said. “He was completely out of control of
the outcome of his treatment and he needed something he felt like he
had some control over and I respected that. The deployment was
something he needed. Doctors kept telling him he wasn’t going and he
kept saying, ‘yes I am, just watch me.’”
Cridland said he
argued with his doctors to clear him to deploy.
"I said, ‘if
you can’t give me a medical reason why I can’t deploy, you need to
deploy me.’ I think it was because I kept bugging them, they gave in
and let me go. There was no medical reason for me not to go.”
Cridland deployed with the rest of the 116th Cavalry Brigade
Combat Team in September 2010. The brigade trained at the Orchard
Combat Training Center in Boise and at Camp Shelby, Mississippi,
before deploying to Iraq.
A SOLDIER, ALWAYS A SOLDIER
into the Idaho Army National Guard in 2007 as a 91B wheeled vehicle
mechanic. He previously served in the U.S. Army from 1985 to 1991.
After a divorce that left him with primary custody of three children
under the age of five, he decided to get out of the Army. With his
children grown and 9/11 still on his mind, he joined the National
“I’m from that age group where you don’t attack
America and get away with it,” he said. “I was still young enough to
come back in, so I reenlisted.”
Cridland was nearly 40 at the time. He said he showed up to the
recruiting station with long hair and no one thought he was serious
about enlisting until he produced his DD-214, indicating he had
“I like serving my country and knowing
we’re making a difference,” he said. “In the National Guard, we can
serve the public with snow removal, firefighting support and those
type of missions, and we’re available for combat if we’re needed. A
lot of it is just giving back to the community and supporting them
when they need us.”
Cridland said the biggest difference
between serving in the 80s and post-9/11 was the Army’s change of
mission. Cridland was a mechanic for an infantry line unit during
his first stint in the Army. He said training focused on defeating
Russia in the Cold War. His mission in Iraq was largely convoy
security and escorting VIPs in an urban environment.
was a squad leader during the deployment as his unit conducted more
than 260 convoys along the 17-miles between Camp Victory and
Baghdad’s Green Zone. For most missions, he was the convoy commander
with 11 other Soldiers. He said most days were uneventful, with one
On July 7, 2011, part of his team was hit by an
IED, which claimed the lives of Specialists Nathan Byers and
Nicholas Newby. The Soldiers were the brigade’s only two causalities
during the deployment. Byers was 24. Newby was 20.
known Byers for quite a few years,” he said. “That hit me hard. He
was a good kid.”
Cridland, and the other part of his team,
responded to the scene in just minutes to assist with fire support
During the deployment, Cridland checked in
monthly with the local aid station to have his throat inspected once
a month to ensure the cancer hadn’t grown back. It still hasn’t
grown back, though he lives with what he describes as low-grade pain
all the time due to the damage the chemo caused his muscles and
joints. His heart and lungs are both scared as a result as well.
Cridland’s two sons also deployed with his company. They were
assigned different missions to prevent the family from being
involved in the same mass casualty event. Cridland would see his
oldest son, Michael, occasionally and his youngest son, James,
fairly often as they were located at the same staging area.
While the three were deployed, Cridland’s daughter got engaged and
planned her wedding for the day after her dad and brothers were
scheduled to return home. Cassandra said she ended up having to
delay the wedding by two hours but as soon as the three got home,
they changed and Cridland walked his daughter down the aisle.
Cridland said it felt good to be home and that the loss of two
Soldiers just weeks before still weighed heavily on his mind without
any real closure. He took 45 days off and then went back to work.
'THERE'S MORE HERE THAT I JUST
HAVE TO DO'
Cridland said early into his
diagnoses, he went to his company’s first sergeant and told him he
had cancer and that he didn’t want to get out of the National Guard.
Cridland doesn’t know what decisions were made at higher levels, but
said his first sergeant and his unit fully supported him and his
decision to deploy.
“As long as I was making progress, they
kept working with me,” he said.
Cridland said since recovering from cancer and returning home from a
deployment, he has become a lot more focused on his relationship
with his wife and pursuing his goal to be promoted to first sergeant
of the only company he’s served in since 2007.
Cassandra in junior high. His now brother-in-law introduced the two
because they were both in the school’s band and enjoyed reading.
They became friends but didn’t start dating until 1993, after both
had married and divorced other people.
“After three years,
we decided we probably should just get married because we found a
friendship and companionship that felt like a lasting thing and not
something that is temporary,” he said. "We work really hard to get
through things and not give up.”
“She kept me going. I didn’t
want her to end up spending the next 30 to 40 years around without
After the deployment, Cridland took his wife to
Scotland. The two hiked 138 miles in 12 days. He also found a job
much closer to his home in Sandpoint, Idaho. He now works as a
diesel mechanic for a local mining company. He had previously worked
in Wyoming and traveled back and forth during the month.
don’t let things worry me as bad as they used to,” he said. “I use
to have this since of urgency about everything, now I pick and
choose what gives me that sense of urgency. I take things as they
He plans to stay in the National Guard for as long
as he can. He’s currently 54 and could have retired two years ago,
but as much as he enjoys his civilian job, he enjoys being around
Soldiers more. He plans to deploy with the 116th Cavalry Brigade
Combat Team in 2022.
He’s completed his military education
and is his company’s combatives instructor and resilience trainer,
efforts he’s made to learn as much as he can while he still serves.
“I had a college teacher who said once you have knowledge, no
one can take it from you,” Cridland said. He said whenever you have
the opportunity to learn something, you should learn it because then
you own it and no one can take it.”
Cridland shares his story
with members of his church whenever he can. He tells people not to
give up when they are going through tough times. He tells people to
keep fighting, knowing he’s made it through his worst days and is
around to see his children have children.
“I’m not afraid to
die, I just felt like there’s more here that I just have to do,” he
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