By Marine Corps Cpl. Jo Jones
Special to American Forces Press Service
June 11, 2009 - From a young age, Marine Corps Sgt. Kristy L. Kayto dreamed of being a Marine. She's done that, and now she'd like to be a drill instructor, but she's put that dream on hold, turning down a chance to leave Iraq early in favor of taking care of her Marines here. Inspired by her father's service in the Marine Corps and yearning to follow in his footsteps, the Manahawkin, N.J., native wanted to join the Marines after graduating from high school in 1997. But her parents encouraged her to pursue a college education instead, so she studied human nutrition, foods and exercise science at Virginia Tech University in Blacksburg, Va. In April 1999, Kayto took a proactive step toward joining the military and enlisted in the Marine Reserves.
"I wanted to finish my degree, then make the decision on how I wanted to continue my future," she said.
After finishing her fourth semester of college, Kayto spent the summer training at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, S.C. But unlike most Marines who take about two weeks of leave after graduation, Kayto immediately returned to college. For the remainder of the year, she balanced full-time college and reserve military training with the 4th Combat Engineer Battalion in Roanoke, Va.
While serving in the reserves, however, Kayto decided she wanted to serve on active duty instead.
"Halfway through my junior year, seeing the little bit I had seen in the [Marine Corps], I wanted to dive in full-force," she said. "Being a reservist and not being full-time active duty just wasn't enough."
Upon completing her military occupational specialty training, Kayto checked into her new unit, 2nd Supply Battalion, 2nd Force Service Support Group, at Camp Lejeune, N.C. For the next two years, she worked as a supply clerk while earning a psychology degree through Campbell University.
In February 2003, Kayto deployed with 2nd Supply Battalion to Camp Fox, Kuwait, for six months. After returning to the United States, she stayed in the Marine Corps until her enlistment ended in March 2004.
Having earned her bachelor's degree, and having achieved her dream of serving in the Marine Corps, Kayto took the skills she had learned and applied them to a civilian job. For the next two and a half years, she stayed in the supply business, working for companies such as Advanced Vehicle Systems and UPS Supply Chain Solutions. Although she learned a lot, Kayto said, she missed the Marine Corps.
She re-enlisted in November 2006 and returned to Camp Lejeune to work with 2nd Marine Expeditionary Force Headquarters Group, serving as a supply chief. She later was appointed to a platoon sergeant position.
"The camaraderie of the Marine Corps made me want to come back," Kayto said. "The drive, the desire and the way the Marines work is something that I didn't experience as much on the outside."
As a supply chief with 2nd Marine Expeditionary Force Headquarters Group here, Kayto supplies equipment and vehicles to military, police and border transition teams scattered throughout Iraq's Anbar and Ninevah provinces. In addition to her duties as a supply chief, Kayto has retained her job as the unit's platoon sergeant.
"Leading Marines is my favorite part of being [a noncommissioned officer]," she said. "I absolutely love my Marines. They are like my family."
Marine Corps Cpl. Dakota Berg, a transition team supply Marine, has worked with Kayto for about two and a half years. Berg said Kayto is extremely professional, and that her love for the Marines is exemplified through her actions.
"She sets the example for us, and you'll never see us doing anything that she wouldn't do herself," Berg said. "She's first and foremost all about taking care of the platoon, and she's very good at it."
In addition to being a leader at work, Kayto also thrives on opportunities to mentor and work with Marines outside of her supply billet. She is a substance abuse counseling officer for Multinational Force West, a qualified Marine Corps Martial Arts Program brown belt instructor, and has taught exercise classes at the main gym here.
After finishing her Iraq deployment, Kayto said, she would like to become a drill instructor at Parris Island.
"Ever since stepping on the yellow footprints [at the start of recruit training], I have wanted to become a drill instructor," she said. "I'm very envious of people who are molding tomorrow's leaders, and I've always wanted to be a part of that."
Although Kayto is excited about potentially becoming a drill instructor, she insists that the needs of her Marines come first, and she has passed up an opportunity to leave Iraq early. She said she'll wait until her entire unit has returned home from this deployment before pursing her goal of becoming a drill instructor.
(Marine Corps Cpl. Jo Jones serves with Multinational Force West.)