Face of Defense: Guard Soldier Becomes Women's Advocate
By Army Sgt. Jesse Houk
Illinois National Guard
SPRINGFIELD, Ill., Mar. 8, 2012 Deployments can change a soldier’s life, but the prospect of a deployment may have saved the life of one central Illinois soldier.
Army Sgt. Kristina Melton, and her husband, Army Sgt. Chris Melton -- both of the Illinois National Guard -- had planned to deploy together, but a predeployment health screening put those plans on hold. Courtesy photo
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
For Army Sgt. Kristina R. Melton, a member of the Illinois National Guard’s 1344th Transportation Company in East St. Louis, no field manual could have prepared her for what she learned during a health examination as she prepared for a mobilization with the 1644th Transportation Company in Rock Falls. She had cervical pre-cancer cells.
"When the doctor told me I was going to miss the deployment, I was hurt," Melton said. "I was upset. I thought, 'Great, my husband is going to deploy without me again, and I am going to be stuck at home.' So it was really sad, and I was bawling."
Melton's husband, Army Sgt. Chris Melton, also with the 1344th Transportation Company, planned to deploy with her by joining the 1644th, but decided against it in light of the diagnosis.
"It was a blessing in disguise," he said. "If Kristina wouldn't have been set to deploy, it would have been months before she would have had her checkup, and her medical condition could have gotten worse."
Although the condition is serious, the Meltons said, they have not allowed it to control their future.
"We are planning on having another child, so once we do that, she plans on having the hysterectomy and then the cervical cancer issue won't be an issue anymore," Chris said.
In addition to having another child, Kristina said, she expects to retire from the Illinois Army National Guard. She noted that treating her condition and having a hysterectomy have quick recovery periods and would not affect her career as some other health issues might.
"I think it speaks a lot to her character and the kind of person she is," said Army Capt. Matthew P. Wood, the 1344th’s company commander. "She knows that she has some things going on in her life that are outside the Army, but she knows that she can overcome those and that they are only temporary. The pride that she has and the things that she wants to do for the military are going to last a lot longer than that."
Melton said her goal is to get the word out about cervical cancer awareness and women's health issues.
"It happens, and I prefer for most women to understand that it can happen to them no matter what age they are," Kristina said.
With the number of women in the military increasing over the past half century, women's health has become increasingly relevant. Although soldiers learn occupational safety and mission safety at a high level, she said, she would like to be a reminder of how much health safety should be stressed.
"There are women out there that don't get their Pap smears done when they should, and they're missing out on stuff like this," Kristina said. "If this isn't caught, then there's not a lot the doctors can do. It is life-threatening. It can kill you if you go untreated."
Melton said she hoped other military women can look to her as someone who has benefitted from preventive health tests and find the courage to do the same.
"The dangers of not being checked out are much worse than the discomforts of having the examinations," she said.