Staff Sgt. Joseph Kapacziewski
Staff Sgt. Joseph Kapacziewski, 3rd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment

FOR Staff Sgt. Joseph Kapacziewski, Oct. 3, 2005, began like any other day. He was in Iraq on his fifth deployment with the 3rd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment, after serving three previous deployments to Afghanistan. But when an enemy grenade exploded next to him while on a mission, a recovery process that would last years was set into motion.

Joe had been badly injured in the blast, though his arms and legs were still intact. "For the first few months, I didn't have any use of my arm from the elbow down," he said.

It wasn't until several months after the injury that Joe realized it was his leg he should have been worried about. On March 28, 2006, doctors decided to amputate his leg.

Recovery was an uphill battle for Kapacziewski, and each day presented its own challenges. When he met Harvey Naranjo from the Wounded Warrior Project, things began to change.

"He told me he was going to get me up and running and skiing and doing all this stuff," Joe said. "I looked at him like he was half-crazy, because I couldn't even feed myself."

With each day of physical therapy, Kapacziewski grew stronger. After about six months, he was skiing in Colorado, just like Harvey said.

Joe's next big challenge was in returning to his old job, and his squad leader position with the Rangers.

"I don't like to think of it as 'returning to active duty,' because I never really left," he said. "I wanted to continue what I was doing."

Getting back in shape and becoming accustomed to doing everything with a prosthetic were Joe's first goals. In order to stay with the Rangers, Joe had to re-qualify on everything necessary to belong to the regiment.

"I had to do the Army Physical Fitness Test, a 5-mile run, a 12-mile road march with a 40-pound pack, and re-qualify on fast-roping out of helicopters," he said. "I've done five static line jumps, and I haven't had any issues with my prosthetic."

Although he ran into some initial resistance, Joe remains determined to reach his goal.

"I've been given opportunities to prove myself, and I feel that I have," he said. "I've been able to keep up with everyone, and sometimes exceed all expectations. Hopefully soon, I'll have my squad and carry on just like before."

Joe often speaks with injured Soldiers to offer them encouragement, teaching them to draw strength from their injuries.

"You've got to take it day by day, because each day it will get better," he said. "It's not an easy road. Stay positive, and don't let anyone tell you that you can't do something."

Page last updated Tue October 27th, 2009 at 09:04