More than two years after a grenade shattered the lower right leg of Sgt. 1st Class Joseph Kapacziewski in Iraq, he was back on duty in 2008 using a prosthetic limb with his 3rd Ranger Battalion.
"It was sort of my goal from the day I got hurt to return to combat as a Ranger rifle squad leader," he said. "That desire was in a big part due to the men I serve with."
In an attempt to motivate other soldiers facing similar adversity, Kapacziewski has written a book, "Back In The Fight: The explosive memoir of a special operator who never gave up." He will sign books from 2-4 p.m. today at Barnes & Noble in Columbus Park Crossing.
After his unit approached him about the memoir, Kapacziewski, 30, thought the book would give him a chance to show everyone what Rangers do. "It's an honor to serve in the war on terrorism," he said. "My goal with the book was to motivate the desire for other soldiers to overcome their adversity that they are faced with."
A native of Durham, Conn., Kapacziewski enlisted in the Army under the delayed enlistment program in May 2001 after graduating from high school in Bristol. He was required to report to basic training at Fort Benning on Sept. 18, 2001, one week after the terrorist attacks on America.
After completing training, he was assigned with the Ranger Battalion. He was in northern Iraq on Oct. 3, 2005, when a grenade was dropped from an overpass through the gunner's hatch of the Stryker vehicle Kapacziewski was riding. The blast shattered his right leg below the knee and damaged a nerve in his right arm.
"The day started off like any other day," Kapacziewski said. "We were there to kill or capture a high value target and we were ambushed. It could have been a lot worse. A lot of us could have been injured and beaten up. We are just thankful."
Forty surgeries and 18 months later, his leg still hadn't healed as he had hoped. In March 2007, he chose to have the limb amputated below the knee.
"I didn't think it was going to take more than 40 surgeries and ultimately the amputation of my leg," he said. "I thought I was going to be able to heal up faster than that. I had a great support structure to help me out and believe in me. They gave me the confidence to reach my goal."
With the prosthetic limb, the Ranger was returned to his unit in 2008 as a squad leader with the 3rd Ranger Battalion. His first combat deployment in a leadership role came in 2009.
Kapacziewski is proud that he stays fit and is able to perform his duties. "I always have to sort of stay at the tip of the spear as far as that is concerned," he said. "As soon as I slack off, someone is going to start telling me it's time to go. That is my worst fear. My biggest challenge is to always be ready and maintain my proficiency."
With an artificial limb, Kapacziewski admits that some tasks aren't as easy as before the injury. He is not as quick and fast-roping from a helicopter is more difficult. "With the right amount of training, I'm able to sort of overcome to meet the standards," he said. "My balance will never be as good, but if I get out there and train, then I'm able to complete it."
Kapacziewski has overcome the injury to continue as a Ranger, but there are still few amputees on active duty. "From my understanding, there is less than 20 active-duty amputees, but there is only a handful that have ever been able to deploy into a combat leadership position," he said.
Since his leg was amputated, Kapacziewski has completed three triathlons and finished the New York City Marathon twice.
Kapacziewski said his wife, Kimberly, is his No. 1 supporter. The couple has two sons, Wyatt, 4, and Cody, 2.
"She helped me out through bad days and picked up the slack and allowed me to do extra physical training and therapy when I needed it," he said. "She allowed me to do what I love to do."
Sgt. 1st Class Christopher Masters, Kapacziewski's supervisor, said he has known the Ranger for about six years, and it's humbling to recognize what he has accomplished. "He lives and breathes our standards every day just like everyone else," Masters said. "He is exceptional at it as well."
Kapacziewski plans to complete 20 years in the Army and retire as sergeant major.
"I think everyone throughout their life is faced with adversity, and it is your character how you overcome that adversity," he said. "I thought if I was able to overcome the amputation of my leg, if they set the goal for themselves and surround themselves with positive people, they will be able to overcome any adversity they face."