Monday, December 10, 2007

Surgeon fills his son’s boots in Iraq

By Don Cox - Reno Gazette-Journal via AP
Posted : Sunday Dec 9, 2007 10:07:40 EST

RENO, Nev. — Call Dr. William Krissoff’s office in Truckee, Calif., and a voice on the answering machine says he’s no longer seeing patients.

That doesn’t tell the whole story, not the important part. It doesn’t tell about Krissoff’s son, Nathan, a Marine from Reno killed in Iraq on Dec. 9, 2006. It doesn’t tell about Krissoff’s decision to become a Navy doctor and serve where the war is being fought.

Dr. William Krissoff, 61, an orthopedic surgeon who opened his Sierra Nevada practice in 1979, is now Lt. Cmdr. William Krissoff, a newly commissioned officer in the Navy Medical Corps who reports for duty this week, a year, almost to the day, after his son’s death.

“My goal is to work in a combat surgical unit, a forward unit,” said Krissoff, who got some help from President Bush to reach his objective.

That came on Aug. 28 when Bush was in Reno to address the national convention of the American Legion, the country’s largest group of military veterans. Bush also met privately with eight families of Marines and soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. The group included Krissoff and his wife, Christine.

“We met with him for over an hour,” Krissoff said. “It was quite remarkable. It seemed he had all the time in the world. It was an emotional time for everybody.”

At one point, Bush went around the room, asking each family if there was anything they needed. Krissoff spoke up.

“I said, ‘I have something,”’ Krissoff said. “I said, ‘I want to serve in the Navy Medical Corps.”’

Before answering, Bush turned to Krissoff’s wife.

“He checked with her first,” Krissoff said. “He’s very sharp that way.”

Later, in an interview with the Grand Rapids Press in Michigan, where Krissoff grew up, Christine said, “I am not fine with the amount of time he’s gone. But none of the wives of the military people who serve are going to be fine with it. That’s just part of the deal.”

Krissoff doesn’t know where he’ll be assigned. But he’s training to perform surgery in a mobile field hospital in which wounded Marines receive quick attention.

“That’s been the innovation of medical care in Iraq,” Krissoff said. “There is sophisticated care within an hour, very close to the battlefield, if you will.”

Marine 1st Lt. Nathan M. Krissoff, 25, was killed outside Fallujah in Iraq when the vehicle in which he was riding was hit by a roadside bomb.

“The loss of a son puts a certain perspective on things,” William Krissoff told the Press. “It’s my turn to serve. I’m honored and privileged that the Navy will have me in the Medical Corps.”

The Marines use Navy doctors and nurses. That’s why William Krissoff joined.

“Marines don’t have their own physicians,” he said. “That’s what I’ll be doing. I will be assigned to a Marine unit wherever it goes. This was my goal.”

William Krissoff’s brother, Joel, who lives in Grand Rapids, wasn’t surprised.

“I think it’s something he wanted and needed to do,” Joel Krissoff told the Press. “He and Nate were extremely close. It helps him to deal with Nate’s being gone to get into this.”

Nathan Krissoff, who grew up in Reno, was a world-class kayaker, qualifying for the U.S. Junior National team with his younger brother Austin in 1998. Nathan graduated from Williams College in Williamstown, Mass., where he was captain of the swim team.

He joined the Marines in 2004. So did Austin, shortly before Nathan was killed. Austin, 24, is now a second lieutenant, stationed at Camp Pendleton in Southern California.

“Because of my family association with the Marines,” William Krissoff said of his reasons for joining the Navy Medical Corps.

After Nathan was killed, William Krissoff was visited by his son’s commander, Lt. Col. Bill Seely.

“He was crossing the country, visiting families who lost Marines from his unit,” William Krissoff said. “He spent a couple days with us. He talked about their battalion surgeon. I thought, ’I’d really like to do that.”’

Despite his intentions, William Krissoff’s age could have been a problem.

“They don’t want to look at people over 40, maybe 50 at the outside,” he said. “I didn’t qualify. You need an age waiver. It’s usually a lengthy process.”

A year, typically.

“There are security clearances,” William Krissoff said. “It’s very involved.”

But he had the White House on his side. A year was cut to two months.

“I was lucky,” William Krissoff said.

After the meeting with Bush in Reno, Krissoff’s case was handled by Karl Rove, then the president’s top political adviser, who turned it over to Marine Corps Gen. Peter Pace, then chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

By November, Krissoff was in the Navy. He’s assigned to the Marine Corps’ 4th Medical Battalion. Rove sent a note of congratulations.

Krissoff is headed for training. He knows how to be a doctor. But there are some things he needs to learn.

“Setting up a field hospital,” Krissoff said. “Land navigation.”

He’s leaving town. He’s closed his practice. There’s a message on his answering machine. It doesn’t say enough.

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