Army Spc. Krystal M. Fitts

Died July 17, 2012 Serving During Operation Enduring Freedom

26, of Houston, Texas; assigned to 1st Battalion, 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, Fort Bragg, N.C.; died July 17 in Kandahar, Afghanistan, from injuries caused by indirect fire.

Fort Bragg paratrooper, member of a Female Engagement Team, killed in Afghanistan
By Drew Brooks Staff writer

A Fort Bragg soldier was killed Tuesday when her base in southern Afghanistan came under attack.

Spc Krystal M. Fitts, 26, of Houston, was assigned to Company E, 782nd Brigade Support Battalion, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, according to the division.

Fitts served as a member of a Female Engagement Team attached to Company C, 1st Battalion, 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team.

She died after being hit by indirect fire at a combat outpost in Kandahar province’s Zharay district, officials said.

Company C’s commander, Capt. Sam Perlik, said Fitts filled a critical role in the unit and took on an ever-increasing number of duties well beyond the scope of her experience and training.

“She was attached to the company six months before deploying and immediately impressed those around her with her motivation, tenacity and drive to learn,” Perlik said.

The deployment was the first for Fitts, who volunteered to serve on a Female Engagement Team and learned the Pashtu language to help soldiers communicate with local Afghans.

The teams, typically made up of a few female soldiers attached to a larger, more traditional combat unit, go on patrols with U.S. troops and often participate in humanitarian projects aimed at women and children.

In April, The Fayetteville Observer traveled to Afghanistan and spoke with members of the Female Engagement Teams assigned to the 1st Battalion, 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment.

They said their work had been well received by locals, especially the women, who were allowing U.S. troops to collect better information about community support and provide medical aid. Officials in Afghanistan, including Lt. Col. Timothy Gilhool, described the teams as invaluable. Gilhool is commander of the 782nd Brigade Support Battalion. His unit provides most of the team members because there are typically more women in support units.

He specifically praised Fitts’ contributions in Afghanistan.

“These young paratroopers trained hard, from Fort Bragg to the National Training Center to Afghanistan. They have been the literal face of America to a host of Afghan women and children,” Gilhool said. “Krystal was unafraid. Her presence made the difference.”

Fitts’ parents could not be reached Friday, but her stepfather, Gary Bailey, addressed her death on his Facebook page Wednesday.

“Yesterday, Deanna’s daughter, my lovely stepdaughter was killed in action,” he wrote. “Krystal touched many lives, she was tough like her mother and I’m sure she went down swinging. I ask that ALL my friends pray for our family in this time of loss.”

Fitts moved to Houston in 2009, according to her own Facebook account. On the day of her death, she posted a photo of a soldier holding a helmet with a bullet hole in it. The photo’s caption asked people to be grateful. “Remember so many have given of their lives that we have the privilege and the duty to make the most of ours,” the caption read. “Let us do our best to live worthy of this freedom they fought and gave their all for us to enjoy.”

Fitts joined the Army in October 2009 as a chemical operations specialist.

She trained at Fort Jackson, S.C., Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., and Fort Benning, Ga., before coming to Fort Bragg in May 2010.

Her awards include the Bronze Star Medal, the Purple Heart, the Army Commendation Medal, the Army Good Conduct Medal, the National Defense Service Medal, the Afghanistan Campaign Medal with Bronze Service Star, the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, the Army Service Ribbon, the Overseas Service Ribbon, the NATO Medal, the Combat Action Badge and the Parachutist Badge.

(published on FayObserver.com, Sat Jul 21, 2012