After 5 a.m. wake-up calls of “reveille, reveille, reveille” and “fire, fire, fire” at Coast Guard boot camp, Krysten Kasprzyk can’t sleep past 7 a.m.
Her dad served in the Navy. Her brother served in the Army. Her twin sister serves in the Air Force. And Kasprzyk, 23, served as a seaman in the Coast Guard, stationed in Puerto Rico, for 10 months until July 2010.
At 18, Kasprzyk enlisted in the military to pay for college. She didn’t want to follow in her dad’s or her sibling’s footsteps by joining one of the branches that they did, so she joined the Coast Guard to forge her own military path.
Kasprzyk’s dad enlisted in the Navy long before Kasprzyk was born, and her brother enlisted in the Army when he was 17 and she was 12. Kasprzyk’s mom has always been supportive of her family’s decisions to work in the military and was the same with Kasprzyk.
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Now, almost three years after her service, Kasprzyk, a Columbia native, is working toward a bachelor’s degree in science with a major in criminal justice and a minor in studio photography at the University of South Carolina — and she never sleeps through a class.
“That’s the only thing I think is interesting about me,” she said. “When I have to tell people about myself in class, I’m like, ‘My name is Krysten. I was in the Coast Guard. I’m 23.’”
Working in the branch of Coast Guard called Aids to Navigation, Kasprzyk fixed broken buoys and climbed 100- to 800-foot dayboards, which are nautical devices that light the way for boats, to fix any boards or lights that went out.
Buoy lights in a harbor blink either green or red, depending on which side of the harbor the boats are on. If the lights go out, then incoming boats can get lost or hit another boat if they come into the wrong side of the harbor.
Every Monday through Friday at 8 a.m., Kasprzyk and the 13 fellow crewmembers began by checking the Coast Guard’s message system to see whether any buoys or lighthouses needed to be fixed and how urgent the fix was. They also had to make sure everything on the boat was working properly.
Kasprzyk’s proudest moment was when she received a tower climbing certificate for achieving her goal of climbing to the top of a 350-foot tower with the aid of a harness.
“It wasn’t a huge deal in the Coast Guard, but it was big for me,” she said.
During eight weeks of Coast Guard training at Cape May in New Jersey, she was awakened at 5 a.m. either by calls of “reveille, reveille, reveille” or “fire, fire, fire.”
“Reveille, reveille, reveille” meant you had to wake up and get your instructions for the day. But “fire, fire, fire” meant that you had to jump out of bed, run outside and start doing pushups, sit-ups and crunches.
“I’m programmed now to wake up at 7 o’clock every morning,” Kasprzyk said. “Even if I want to sleep in, I can’t.”
Every Tuesday and Thursday at 7 a.m., she drives an hour and 15 minutes from her house in Charleston to USC to make it to her 9:35 a.m. sexual diversities class. She’s also taking crime and punishment, forensic chemistry, photography and Zumba. And on Saturday mornings, she’s in Emergency Medical Technician school at Trident Tech in Charleston.
Before enrolling at USC and Trident Tech, Kasprzyk graduated from Midlands Tech with an associate degree in criminal justice.
When she’s not studying, she’s making smoothies at Smoothie King in Charleston.
Kasprzyk lives with the same roommate that she lived with in the Coast Guard, Haley Dyar. You didn’t get to choose who you roomed with, but the random pairing was a perfect match.
“Living together is perfect,” Dyar said. “It’s like having your best friend live with you. She’s a big goofball. Or I’d say a small goofball because she’s so tiny.”
Kasprzyk and Dyar are more than just roommates; they’re pranksters. Their favorite target is one of their good-natured friends who plays along.
They don’t normally plan their pranks; they just wing it. And they get creative.
“We don’t have cable, so we get bored,” Kasprzyk said.
They plastic-wrapped his car and covered it in sticky notes. They painted over his window. They put dog food in a brown bag, lit it on fire, knocked and ran away.
She said, as much as their friend tries, he can never get them back.
“You have to be slick, and he’s not slick,” she said.
The pranking goes all the way back to the Coast Guard when she and her roommate walked into their room in the barracks the night before inspections to find it trashed from flipped beds, Chex Mix all over the floor and turkey slices, which they didn’t find until a week later, hidden in the air vent with the heat on full blast.
After that, Kasprzyk remembers saying, “It is on.” And so the pranking began.
In the barracks, if your door wasn’t locked, you were Kasprzyk’s and Dyar’s next target.
They dumped an entire bottle of laundry detergent on a friend who was sleeping. They taped a drunk and passed-out friend to a chair. They moved the barrack’s gym equipment – two treadmills and a stationary bicycle – into someone’s room so that the door was blocked and they couldn’t get out for work in the morning. They yelled “fire, fire, fire” outside the room of a friend who had just graduated boot camp.
The pranks were endless.
“We went through this phase where all we wanted to do was prank people,” Dyar said.
Only once were they caught red-handed – literally. As Kasprzyk and Dyar were about to prank a friend by writing “Happy Easter” on his bedroom door with a bottle of ketchup, the friend-to-be-pranked caught them in the act, grabbed the bottle and covered them both in ketchup. The barrack hallway smelled like ketchup for a week.
“We never got in trouble for it,” said Kasprzyk. “No one ever got mad at us or told on us. It was just fun.”
Dyar said: “We were all like brothers and sisters. Pranking and pulling jokes was what we did.”
Kasprzyk said she misses the people in the Coast Guard more than the job itself.
“I really liked the camaraderie of it,” she said. “You get to know people really, really well. That’s the biggest thing I miss about it.”
Kasprzyk can fire a .40-caliber automatic pistol that law enforcement officers are armed with – and she keeps a .22 Mosquito handgun in her home for protection. She can survive while stranded in an ocean by floating on her back and shooting up red flares. She can save a bleeding arm with a tourniquet. She can put out different types of fires. She can perform a proper salute.
With only one more year before she graduates USC, Kasprzyk wants to train to become an air marshal, someone who guards against terrorists on planes.
“A terrorist wouldn’t suspect me to be an air marshal because I’m short and have a baby face,” she said.
If she doesn’t become an air marshal, Kasprzyk wants to help people working as an EMT.
Dyar said, “She has a big heart. She’ll do anything in the world for anybody.”