Barbara Krugler, PA-C’01, could be the image next to the word “selfless” in the dictionary. She wanted to join the military after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, but she reconsidered because she and her husband, Larry, had fourth-grade daughter Elizabeth and firstgrade son Ryan at home. That was just a delay. In 2008, at the age of 47, Krugler got a waiver to allow her to enlist.
Two years later, she found herself a U.S. Army captain taking care of soldiers in “full battle rattle” at a remote base in Nuristan Province, Afghanistan.
“I feel as a nation, you should have some sort of way to give back to society and your community,” says Krugler, who works in the pain clinic at Veterans Administration Central Iowa. “It seems that would give people a different perspective on their country.”
Krugler, who also holds a master’s degree in business administration from Drake University, pursued a medical career after an unhappy stint in pharmaceutical sales. Her clients included staff of a burn unit. “I talked to a PA there and realized that’s what I wanted to do,” she recalls.
She also wanted to serve her country. She deployed to Afghanistan in November 2010 after three months of training in Mississippi. She worked part of her nine months there – a time of increasing violent insurgency – at Forward Operating Base Kalagush, the last U.S.-run operating base in Nuristan Province.
“It was very dangerous. Prior to our getting there, there was incoming mortar fire that almost blew up the entire base,” she says. “One hit a diesel fuel tank. They had no fire trucks. It took almost a week to burn itself out.”
Krugler and her fellow medics focused on treating U.S., Afghan and NATO soldiers, contractors and local Afghans. “We forget when we’re in country just how dangerous it is,” she notes. “You live your life and get into a routine.”
She acknowledges the huge challenges Afghanistan continues to face, from its highly limited infrastructure to its many tribes and languages.
“We flew over mountains and saw villages with no roads going into them. Most of the people have been at war most of their lives; they live in fear but have very little mental health care,” she says.
Krugler and her colleagues worked to promote good will where they served. In addition to providing medical care, including to many Afghan children, they distributed information in the local language on health topics including malaria prevention, water sanitation and the benefits of pre-natal vitamins. Her experiences broadened her views and reinforced her love of military medicine.
“It’s some of the most cutting-edge medicine you’ll ever see. The prosthetics are out of this world. You can access medical records [of military personnel] around the world,” she says. “You get to see and train on things you wouldn’t see on the civilian side. That has helped me work in different kinds of medicine and enhanced me as a provider.”