A local Iraq War veteran is using her experience with post-traumatic stress disorder to help other veterans.
Crystal Wayne, of Denton, started a new program for veterans at SpiritHorse Therapeutic Center in Corinth where military veterans can work with the horses and other animals to ease the stress of war.
"It's kind of like my church, my cathedral, the smells, the sounds it's just comfort,” said Wayne.
Wayne first came to SpiritHorse for her own personal therapy after returning from the Iraq War.
“Ten years,” said Wayne reflecting on her time in the war, “it only feels like five.”
Wayne joined the Army in 2003, shortly after the start of the war. At the time she was 31 years old and just made the age cut for active duty. She would end up being the second oldest person to graduate boot camp at the time.
She had just graduated from the University of North Texas in Denton and had hoped to use her degree to work with FEMA or American Airlines, but the changes set on by the September 11, 2001 terror attacks forced her to make the tough decision.
"I needed a crash course in leadership, organization and what-not, and I thought what better way than the military," said Wayne.
So she graduated boot camp and went to South Korea for a short time before shipping out to Iraq as a nuclear weapons specialist.
She was assigned to operate a specialized vehicle to search for weapons of mass destruction, but when none were found, her commanding officer retrained her and reassigned her to a new role: security.
"I didn't tell my family what I did,” said Wayne admitting she still hasn’t told them. She was worried they’d just fear for her safety.
Wayne was posted behind a gun on an armored vehicle driving through populated portions of Iraq. She said it was an adrenaline rush, but also came with the unnerving task of guarding some of the most notorious detainees of the war.
"He was the head assassin for the Mahdi Militia,” she said cringing at the memory. "After what he told me he did, I never asked that question again. That was evil reincarnated."
When Wayne returned from active duty to the US she actually went back to the Army to continue her work, but in 2007 was discharged for good when she was diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder.
“They told me I could never wear the uniform again,” she said.
She said that’s when things got very tough for her. She found comfort in teaching at a local middle school, but still shut herself in at night and closed herself off from others.
She tried mental health counseling at the Veterans Administration, but said her case was simply too unique being an older female who had seen combat.
"Everyone was prepared for men to come back, nobody was prepared for women,” she said. "I was told, 'we don't know what to do with you.’”
Then a student mentioned SpiritHorse: a Corinth based group that offers therapy to folks with special needs, mostly autism, through riding and care for the animals.
“I went right away after school,” she said with a laugh.
Having grown up on a farm, Wayne said she finally felt comfortable again simply cleaning up or talking to the horse she quickly bonded with: Rossini.
“They just listen,” she said brushing Rossini.
Since starting her work at SpiritHorse, Wayne has branched out and joined the American Legion where she’s encouraged other veterans to face their scars as well.
"You learn to deal with it and handle it, but it's going to be a part of me forever,” she said.
She encourages any veterans who need help and don’t know where to turn to contact her at the therapy center.