She may blend in with other students at Glendale Community College, but she is far from the average college woman.
Between starting life in the Philippines, partially raised in Thailand, serving in Iraq, Afghanistan and South Korea and giving back to her community, Kristel Vear has led an exciting and interesting life and those close to her believe that she will go far.
“Any goal that Kristel sets for herself, I believe she will achieve it,” said Charles Shumate, GCC Veterans Association adviser.
Vear was born in Manila, the Philippines on March 3, 1984 to a Filipino mother and a Caucasian father from Chicago. She moved to Northern California at age 2, left the US for Bangkok, Thailand at age 7 and returned to the states to Scarsdale, N.Y. her junior year of high school. That’s where her life started to change.
The future Army sergeant’s father took a sabbatical from his job at a private school (where she was attending) and did not want to homeschool his daughter, so Vear moved to Scarsdale with her aunt and uncle to attend school there.
She was living in New York on Sept. 11, 2001. Her aunt and uncle both worked in downtown Manhattan. Her uncle had a meeting that morning at a building near the north World Trade Center tower and saw it fall. Fortunately, neither were injured by the attack and Vear was at school, uninjured.
“I think Sept. 11 hit close to home,” Vear said. Many of her friends had family that either worked downtown or in the World Trade Center itself.
Although the terrorist attack helped influence her to join the Army, it was her high school’s Marine Corps Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps program that made her want to serve her country.
She joined the program on a whim. “I needed an elective in high school,” Vear said. “And I didn’t want to do gym.”
The program ended up influencing Vear so much that she enlisted in the army at the beginning of her senior year at Ramona High School in Riverside, Calif. in September of 2002, after she had moved back to California with her father.
Two months after she graduated in 2003, she left for basic training at Fort Jackson in Columbia, S.C. After basic training, she went to advanced individual training at Fort Lee in Virginia to learn how to be an Automated Logistical Specialist, primarily responsible for supervising and performing management or warehouse functions so that everything runs smoothly. After leaving advanced individual training, Vear headed to her first duty station in Hawaii.
“I had a rollercoaster experience there,” Vear said. “You know you’re still young, straight out of high school and you’re an adult now, this is your job.”
Only a couple months later, in 2004, the new army private left Hawaii to serve in Afghanistan. “I didn’t get to go home [in Riverside] before I left and it was hard because they want you to have a will before you go.”
Though most people don’t even begin to think about making a will until after they are well into their 40s, Vear had to write one before she was 21.
“I knew when I enlisted that I signed up during wartime and I knew there was a chance that I could deploy and I wasn’t worried about it, I was ready to do my duty,” Vear said. However she also added, “I left for Afghanistan and it was scary.”
“I didn’t know what to expect, I really didn’t. It was intense for a little bit when we got there.”
Vear explained that when her company arrived in Bagram, Afghanistan, they lived in what were basically plywood shacks at the foot of a mountain. “It was beautiful, especially when it snowed, but it was so cold,” Vear said. “It was very surreal to be in a horrible place and look up at the snow-capped mountain and it was beautiful.”
“A couple weeks later we got mortared, we got rocketed, and that was scary,” Vear said. “Then after awhile you just get used to it. After awhile instead of being in the bunkers, we were on top of the bunkers in a lawn chair going, ‘Hey, I bet you its going to land there or I bet you it’s going to land over there.’ It’s crazy, you get desensitized.”
Although the 5-foot tall Automated Logistical Specialist saw heavy combat in Afghanistan, she also had much time to herself. “Being deployed, you have a lot of time to think,” she said. “You think about all this crazy stuff when you have time to yourself. I don’t know about other people, but I picked apart my life a little bit.”
Vear explained that while in Afghanistan she had a couple close calls.
In the United States, a car approaching another car from behind usually isn’t a big deal, but in Afghanistan it can be a life or death situation.
Vear, along with other members from her company, had to go to a weapons range which was not on base. She explained that to get to the range they had to drive through an area that was “kind of secured.”
While in the last vehicle of the convoy, she noticed that a man was driving close to their convoy. At first, her sergeant did not think it was a big deal, but Vear knew they had to be cautious.
As the car accelerated closer, her warnings were taken seriously and she was ordered to swing her rifle off the side of the vehicle to show force. However, the car continued to approach. Vear was then ordered to “light him up” if he got close enough to hit their vehicle. Luckily for the company, and for the man, he swerved away right before he got too close.
Vear said that another close call involved her being shot at while in a helicopter.
While in the war zone, she was put in situations where her life was at risk.
Fortunately, she survived all of the close calls and returned to Hawaii in May 2005.
Although she suffered a streak of bad luck on the day she was supposed to see the specialist promotion board, she was promoted from private to specialist soon after she came back to Hawaii.
Vear’s military career was not over yet. In July 2006, she left Hawaii to serve in Iraq.
“That was interesting because it is a completely different place than Afghanistan—but believe me, it gets cold there too,” Vear said.
When she arrived in the Middle East for a second time, it was anything but cold. “When I stepped off the plane in Kuwait it was like a hair dryer beating down on me,” Vear said.
Although she didn’t see much action in Iraq, the specialist said that the rules were much more strict than in Afghanistan. The lack of action and the stricter rules were not the only differences between Iraq and Afghanistan.
“It was insane. In, Afghanistan we were locked and loaded, we had two magazines, a full combat load,” Vear said. She went on to explain that in Iraq, during the mandated physical training, they had a spotlight on them. “If you did that in Afghanistan, we would have been dead, so a lot of us were freaking out [on the first day of training],” Vear said.
“Another messed up thing was that in Afghanistan, I had a flak vest, but they did not have plates for me,” Vear said. “So the flak vest is kind of useless without plates.”
Although Vear had a nonfunctioning vest in Afghanistan, where she saw combat, Iraq was different this way, too. “In Iraq, I got a vest, got combat plates, but we were not locked and loaded. We only had one magazine. It was a little different.”
Vear stayed in Iraq longer than she expected. While her company was packing to return to the states, they were notified that their deployment was extended for another three months. She finally returned to Hawaii in September 2007
Much like her break between Afghanistan and Iraq, she was only in the states for a little while until she served in South Korea in February 2008.
Vear said that the group she worked with in South Korea was one of the best she had ever worked with because they worked well together. After serving a year, she returned to the states in February 2009.
When she returned, Vear was sent to Colorado Springs, Colo. Although she spent about three years in Colorado Springs, she didn’t have many positives to say about the base.
Despite her negative experiences in Colorado, Vear was promoted from specialist to sergeant right before she was discharged in January 2011.
Vear now lives with her father, stepmother and a Boston Terrier named Jack.
One of Vear’s closest friends, Thomas Korth, who met her at basic training, said that she has definitely changed after serving in the military. “Of course she changed, anyone would have changed,” Korth said. “I served one tour in Iraq and I came back a completely different person. Your outlook on life changes.”
If Vear’s outlook on life has changed, it has certainly made her determined.
“My life right now is pretty busy, pretty hectic,” Vear said and she wasn’t exaggerating. Vear goes to school Monday through Thursday, volunteers at St. Joseph’s Hospital every Friday and has school again on Saturdays.
Vear has begun to return to civilian life by staying busy. “The thing is she’s active, and I think what happens with a lot of vets that come into the educational systems after they come back from such tough situations like that, tend to shut themselves off from the community and everyone else, they just want to go unnoticed and unrecognized,” Shumate said. “But Kristel has an agenda and wants to get out there and she wants to do it.”
Vear has also become a leader in more ways than one. In addition to helping found the GCC Veterans Association, she is the vice president of the club and is currently the only female member.
“I think that’s why she wanted to start this veterans club and being the vice president of it, especially being a woman and being in charge of that shows other women vets that they can come out and expose themselves as vets also,” Shumate said.
Korth, who is the president and started the veterans club at Lindenwood University in Missouri, said that Vear always puts other veterans before herself. “She has a big heart,” Korth said.
The GCC Veterans Association vice president is on track to become a registered health information technology specialist and hopes to work at a civilian, military or veteran hospital.
One thing about the former army sergeant is clear: the people around her support her and are confident she will be successful in life.
Korth said that Vear “has the world at her hands right now.”