Firefighter and soldier Megan Czisny serves in two uniforms
At a petite 5-feet, 3-inches, 113 pounds, Megan Czisny of Grafton hardly seems the type to drive a fuel rig over hot desert sand in Iraq or fight house fires in Cedarburg, but that’s what this 24-year-old woman does.Photos by Sam Arendt
For one year — May 2006 to May 2007 — Czisny drove a fuel supply truck in Iraq as a member of the 890th U.S. Army Reserves in Milwaukee attached to the 656th Transportation Company Rebuild out of Indiana.
The trucks were loaded with 6,500 gallons of fuel as Czisny, who wore an armored vest and carried an M-4 assault rifle in the armored cab, maneuvered her rig in convoys that traveled at night through the war-torn country.
An advance team marked potholes with glow sticks and detonated homemade bombs, but occasionally missed some.
“We hit a few, but luckily they weren’t set up right or the back wheels of the trucks hit them and we would just get sand all over our trucks,” Czisny said.
“Most of the Iraqi people were very nice and glad that we were there and helping. They would be cheering and clapping their hands as we went by.”
The unit went on missions every other night.
“We came back with everyone with no serious injuries,” Czisny said, noting she had the most serious injury. She broke three ribs when her truck hit a pothole.
There were three women and 40 men in her platoon.
In December, Czisny will leave the Army Reserves, having completed her commitment.
She expects to get her associate’s degree in firefighting from Milwaukee Area Technical College in December and wants to be a professional firefighter. She has been a volunteer firefighter and emergency-medical technician with the Cedarburg Fire Department for four years, joining shortly after she returned from Iraq. She has achieved firefighter II and EMT II status.
Czisny, who was one of two girls who took auto mechanics classes at Cedarburg High School, joined the Army Reserves in her junior year, completing basic training the summer before her senior year.
“I enjoyed driving so I decided to be in the transportation corps,” Czisny said.
After graduating in 2005, she completed her specialist training with the transportation division, then entered the firefighters program at MATC. However, she was able to complete only one semester before she was called up for active duty.
She and four others from her unit were attached to the Indiana unit. She was one of eight soldiers trained as truck drivers. The others learned to drive rigs in the cold Indiana weather, then flew to Kuwait. where it was 110 degrees, before heading to Al Taquaddum Air Base in Iraq, where it was even hotter.
“It was very hot and dry, basically like an oven,” she said.
Her home was a 15-by-18-foot metal shipping container that she shared with another female soldier.
“It was air-conditioned, and we had a small TV and refrigerator to keep water cold and any food our families sent us,” Czisny said. The women improvised a tarp roof over a walk between shipping containers to provide a rare piece of shade.
Czisny said female soldiers were treated differently than men. Her commanding officer, she said, did not like having female drivers and made it difficult for them.
“We would be asked to do stupid little jobs when we were supposed to be sleeping,” she said. “We got volunteered for extra jobs and the boys didn’t.
“I didn’t get my promotion overseas because I wasn’t part of the boys club. I was disappointed in that because I deserved it. But my platoon was great. They kept an eye on us.”
Her platoon, she said, was like family, each looking out for the other.
“They’re the ones that have your back if something goes wrong, just like in firefighting,” Czisny said.
“You have to rely on them and need to know you have that protection.”
After returning from Iraq, Czisny changed her specialty to firefighting. She is now assigned to a military firefighting unit in Sturtevant.
Being a firefighter provides the rush of adrenalin she enjoys, Czisny said, whether she’s fighting a fire or responding to a medical emergency.
“In a medical emergency, I can use all my skills,” she said. “It’s nice to be able to help people in the community.”
Czisny’s sister Kristen joined the Air Force last year. Her brother Justin is studying for his doctorate in psychology at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
Czisny was laid off in January from her job in the emergency room at Columbia St. Mary’s Ozaukee Hospital in Mequon and recently became an in-home care provider for an elderly man on weekends.