Author: Blankenship, Janie
Date published: November 1, 2011
On Oct. 3, 2005, Sgt. 1st Class Joseph Kapacziewski was in Iraq with the 3rd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment - it was his second time in Iraq, and he had three previous deployments to Afghanistan, as well.
The 28-year-old Ranger was in a convoy in northern Iraq when it was attacked. A grenade fell through the gunner's hatch and rolled into the Stryker armored fighting vehicle carrying Kapacziewski and 10 other soldiers.
Though seriously wounded, he knew he would do whatever he had to in order to get back to the war zone. While being carried in for treatment, Kapacziewski kept asking if he would still be able to be a squad leader.
In the 18 months following the grenade attack that shattered his lower right leg and caused nerve damage to his right arm, Kapacziewski underwent 40 surgeries. But still his right leg wasn't healing, and he was in constant pain.
He made a decision that is hard for most to fathom.
"The decision to amputate my leg was very difficult," Kapacziewski said. "The first doctors I had at Walter Reed wanted me to consider the option of amputation but I would have nothing to do with it."
Even with the best doctors doing everything they could to help him, Kapacziewski's range of motion and severe pain still greatly limited him on what he could do.
"I was tired of sitting on the sidelines and wanted to get back in the fight," he said. "I was not going to be able to do it on a bum leg so I figured I would get it cut off and get a prosthetic. One of the best decisions I ever made."
While Kapacziewski admits that it was not easy learning to use his belowthe-knee prosthesis, it has allowed him to live the active lifestyle that he had grown accustomed to alongside his wife, Kimberly. Not to mention chasing after their two sons - Wyatt, 2, and Cody, 1.
A Ranger to the core, Kapacziewski completed an Army PT test, a five- mile run and a 12-mile road march while carrying 40 pounds of gear - all this only 10 months following his amputation.
And with that can-do spirit everpresent, Kapacziewski resumed a squad leader position and led Rangers in combat again in March 2008. He has deployed four times to Afghanistan since being wounded in 2005 and he is preparing for his fifth.
In the midst of those deployments, he also became platoon sergeant in 3rd Battalion's C Company.
"I was promoted and picked up a platoon sergeant position, which has been the most rewarding job I have ever had," he said. "I plan on staying in the Army as long as I can close with and destroy the enemy."
After graduating from high school in Bristol, Conn., Kapacziewski joined the Army in May 2001, on the delayed entry program. He said the last thing he wanted at 18 years old was to go to college and sit in a classroom all day.
He was set to start basic training on Sept. 18,2001.
"It was the perfect time to be entering the military, one week after Sept. 11," said Kapacziewski, who deployed to Afghanistan in June 2002. "Some service members will do a whole 20-year career without seeing combat, and I have been fortunate not to know what a peacetime Army is."
This past May, the organization No Greater Sacrifice presented Kapacziewski with its Freedom Award. It is given annually to individuals who "epitomize selfless service to the nation."
But for "Kap," as he is known to many, the award was not necessary because he doesn't see himself as an amputee, but as a Ranger.
"It's a little embarrassing," he said at that time. "Everyone here in the regiment is a team player, so being recognized as an individual is a little awkward."