When Sgt. 1st Class Joseph Kapacziewski decided to have his right leg amputated, he had one goal in mind: to return to the line and serve alongside his fellow Rangers.
It took months of hard work and painful rehabilitation, but Kapacziewski achieved his goal and has deployed four times to Afghanistan as a below-the-knee amputee.
He was presented with the No Greater Sacrifice Freedom Award on May 24 in Washington, D.C.
Honored alongside Army Chief of Staff nominee Gen. Ray Odierno, the commander of Joint Forces Command and former commander of U.S. troops in Iraq, Kapacziewski is the first noncommissioned officer to receive the award, which recognizes individuals who epitomize selfless service to the nation.
“It’s a little embarrassing,” Kapacziewski said about being singled out for the honor. “Everyone here in the regiment is a team player, so being recognized as an individual is a little awkward.”
Kapacziewski, 28, joined the Army more than nine years ago and has served with the 75th Ranger Regiment since May 2002.
Wounded in October of 2005, Kapacziewski chose to have his damaged leg amputated in March 2007.
Ten months after his amputation, Kapacziewski completed an Army PT test, a five-mile run and a 12-mile road march while carrying 40 pounds of gear.
In March 2008, one year after his surgery, Kapacziewski accomplished his goal. He was put back on the line, as a squad leader in A Company, 3rd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment.
He has deployed four times to Afghanistan since he was wounded in 2005; he came home in mid-May from his most recent four-month tour.
In between all of that, he completed the Maneuver Senior Leader Course, and Ranger Assessment and Selection Program II.
He is now a platoon sergeant in 3rd Battalion’s C Company.
Deploying again was “a dream come true,” Kapacziewski said, but he also admits that, at first, he was nervous about deploying with a prosthetic.
“I did worry about it a little bit, sort of being so far away from anyone who could help me with my prosthetic if I started having issues with it,” he said. “But it just meant taking care of my residual limb and taking care of the prosthetic.”
Kapacziewski has three identical prosthetics for everyday use and one for running.
“My prosthetist does a real good job fitting me and lining everything up perfectly,” he said. “We were able to find one that was very universal where I can run, skip and jump out of airplanes.”
Kapacziewski said his fellow soldiers don’t even notice anymore that he wears a prosthetic.
“The first few months walking around, a lot of people would do double takes,” he said. “I had a lot of pressure on my shoulders, wanting to prove I could do anything everyone else could. Over the years, nobody gives it a second thought anymore.”
Kapacziewski said he hopes that more wounded soldiers like him, who want to continue serving, will be given the chance to do so.
“When you put your mind to something, you can accomplish it,” he said. “For the guys who are getting hurt, just because they get hurt, they can still have a huge impact on not only their soldiers but the Army in general. A lot of the guys who get injured have a lot of combat experience that can be passed on to other people. A lot of it is giving them the time to do the rehab to get better so they can go back to doing what they want to do.”
Kapacziewski said he has a simple answer when people ask him why he stayed in uniform and continues to deploy.
“It’s all about the guys you work with,” he said. “I feel like I have the privilege to come to work with my 600 best friends every day, and they have the strongest desire to close in and destroy the enemy. And that makes it all worthwhile.”