May 2, 2006

Chrsytal Stout

by Marcelo Quarantotto, Life! Editor

Thursday, April 7, 2005. Liberty University psychology major Kayla Powell sat at her computer having a conversation with a girl she and her brother had befriended named Kristen.  Kristen sent Kayla a message stating that the three of them—Kristen, Kayla and Heath, Kayla’s brother—needed to get together to do something.

As she was getting dressed, another IM window popped up.  It was Heath.

“Meet me outside your dorm,” the message stated.

Kayla proceeded to tell him that she had spoken to Kristen not too long ago about getting together.

“I’m picking her up on the way—meet me outside your dorm.”

Brushing her hair, getting dressed and doing whatever else she needed to do to be ready for the forthcoming activities, Kayla excitedly hurried to get out the door. Kayla loves her brother, and the idea of spending time with him and Kristen was, to her, “amazing.”

“Someone came up to me and said, ‘Someone’s at the door.’  I remember being so excited, and I walked out to see Heath and Kristen standing outside—it was slightly raining—and they were both looking down towards the ground. I walked out smiling, looked at them, and they looked at each other.”

“When my brother cries,” she continues while pointing near her eyes, “he gets red right here, and when I looked at him I could tell that he had been crying.”

“I asked him, ‘What’s going on,’ and they [again] looked at each other.  Heath took a breath to talk and he just started crying a lot. This made me cry because I didn’t know what was going on; I didn’t know if something had happened to my newborn nephew, my dad, my mom—but Chrystal never came to mind. I did not think, ‘Something has happened to Chrystal,’ because nothing was going to happen to Chrystal…It’s interesting because when people say, ‘It won’t happen to me,’ they really don’t believe it will—but when it does, it really hits you hard.”

After crying for awhile and not knowing why, she began asking Heath a bit more forcefully as to why he was so upset.  He told her that a helicopter went down in , a helicopter containing Chrystal Stout—their adopted sister.

For the first four years of Kayla’s life, she and her family resided in Alaska, where her parents were missionaries.  They came back from Alaska to Greenville, S.C., due to her grandmother’s failing health.  The Powells had planned on returning to the mission field after her father’s mother passed away, but as Kayla explains it, God led her dad to pastoral ministry.

In 1994, her dad began a church called New Hope. Her other brother Shane is now the senior pastor and her father is an elder.

Chrystal, who was born on August 21, 1981, would now be 24 years-old.  Chrystal grew up without knowing her birth father and her mother married a man named Tony and bore Sonya and Jeremiah—Chrystal’s half-siblings.

“When her [Chrystal’s] stepdad and mother got divorced,” says Kayla, “her mother decided that she didn’t want her three children anymore.  Her stepdad then moved to Greenville with Chrystal, Sonya and Jeremiah.”

At the time, the Powells had family that lived next to Chrystal, her siblings, and stepfather.  Heath went to visit his cousin on one occasion and, as Kayla conveys, “came into a situation with [Chrystal] and her stepfather was kind of throwing her around. Heath brought her to our house when she was 15 and she had been there ever since…So we don’t consider her ‘not my sister’—she is my sister.”          The Powells eventually adopted Chrystal officially and Sonya unofficially.

In August 2001, Chrystal signed up for the Army National Guard as a way to get away from some things she had been dealing with. “She was in a relationship for six years and the guy decided that he didn’t love her anymore,” says Kayla. “So between that and a few other things like having a rough childhood, she was struggling with trying to figure out what she wanted to do with her life…she wanted to do something to make something of herself.”

After basic training, Kayla often asked Chrystal if she regretted her decision of joining. “I don’t know,” Chrystal would say. “Ask me again when I get out.”

“But she did tell my brother that if she were to die overseas and someone would get saved because of it, she wanted God to take her life,” says Kayla.

Chrystal came to intimately know Jesus Christ during September of 2002. Although Kayla is uncertain of Jeremiah’s salvation,  she knows that Sonya is now a Christian— she is the wife of Kayla’s brother Shane and a mother of two.

Being a pastor, Kayla’s father had often attended Super Conference at Liberty University and always talked about the school.  In October 2003, Kayla decided to attend College for a Weekend and come the following spring semester, she was residing in Dorm 3.

“Before then, I had never been anywhere but home with my family,” she says. “So between October and December, I struggled with knowing that I should come to LU.”

After being at Liberty for a semester, Kayla encouraged Heath and Chrystal to enroll. They both decided to apply and a week after receiving acceptance letters, Chrystal also received her deployment orders. Not letting that get in the way of her plans, she enrolled in Liberty’s Distance Learning Program.

Before leaving for in 2004, Chrystal decided to travel and see loved ones. After making a few stops in various parts of the eastern part of the country, she stayed at a hotel in Lynchburg for a few days to visit with Heath and Kayla.

“That time was my best and last memory with Chrystal. The three of us were the closest friends ever. We didn’t even have to do anything—just the three of us hanging out in a hotel room…Just [her] being there with us let us know that she cared…She actually got fired from her job at General Electric for going on that [trip],” says Kayla.

When Chrystal was in , her official duties dealt with communications between allies and different bases. There were certain instances where the Powells wouldn’t receive emails or phone calls for extended periods of time, conveying the fact that she was involved in some sort of mission that she could not discuss. Chrystal would often call and tell Kayla how she couldn’t wait until she could get home and have Kayla play with her hair and scratch her head as she had done so many times before while talking for hours in Chrystal’s bed.

Chrystal was also planning two trips home, one that would have been two weeks long and surrounding Kayla’s  21st birthday this past July, and also one this upcoming summer (which would have been after the end of her military service) with Kayla to Ireland—a place of interest for Kayla since she was 15.

On Wednesday, April 6, 2005, Chrystal boarded one of two Chinook helicopters that were employed to fix some of the communication paraphernalia that had been malfunctioning.  On their way back to the airbase in Bagram, they were caught in a sandstorm that was considered by authorities to be nothing unusual.  The first helicopter made it through, but the second went down with Chrystal Stout inside.

Chrystal was actually not supposed to be in the helicopter and was only able to board because one of the soldiers already on it ended up not going. She also went because she had a fear of flying and was trying to do things that she usually was not too fond of. “I know that it was not an accident,” says Kayla. “Everything happens for a reason.

“I just freaked out, basically. Heath and Kristen were crying, I dropped my purse and everything in my hands, and just fell to the ground. My phone began ringing.  Heath picked it up and walked off while Kristen comforted me through my screaming and crying.”

Heath eventually came back and handed Kayla the phone with their mother on the other line. They discussed plans for going home for the weekend, and it came to pass that she was to spend some time with a friend off campus until another friend was able to give Kayla a ride home on her way to .

The funeral process took about two weeks; Chrystal’s remains didn’t arrive in South Carolina until a week and a half after her death, and the closed-casket funeral was held a few days later. “I stayed at home and cried a lot during those two weeks. Her room was right across from mine and I kept her door shut…It was really hard,” says Kayla.

“The week before the anniversary of her death, all I did was cry,” says Kayla while clutching the neatly-folded toilet-tissues she brought with her. “I can’t believe I’m doing so well today. I guess talking about it helps. When you talk about it, it’s easier. Just sitting and thinking about it is really hard.”

Not that she had not before, but Kayla has an exceedingly strong respect for the military.  “It takes a very unique person to go and know that you could die at any moment. I just wish that people would understand that people have a choice. There’s no reason to get mad at [President] Bush or anybody else—[the soldiers] have a choice. So, even if you are not for the war, you should appreciate those who go and have the courage to fight.”

Contact Marcelo Quarantotto at mquarantotto@liberty.edu.


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