The following review is a special provided to BlackFive readers by Elise Cooper. You can read all of our book reviews by clicking on the Books category on the far right sidebar. While many of us vets are familiar with the story of SFC K (leading a platoon of Rangers, 9 eployments, etc), many people do not know who he is and he is someone everyone should know.
Back In The Fight by Sergeant First Class Joseph Kapacziewski, his wife Kimberly, and Charles W. Sasser is an incredible story of perseverance and determination. It has something for everyone including the history of the war on terror, how the Rangers became an elite unit, Joe’s training and combat, and how he and his family faced the new challenges of his wounds and recovery.
The best parts of the book are when Kim and Joe discuss how they bravely endured his recovery and his decision to amputate his right leg. In October 2005 while on a mission in Northern Iraq, insurgents attacked his convoy. A grenade fell through the gunner’s hatch and exploded, shattering Joe’s right leg below the knee, damaging his right hip, and severing a nerve and artery in his right arm. After enduring more than forty surgeries, because of the chronic pain and limited mobility, in 2007 he decided to amputate. Since Joe lived for being a Ranger, he used the Ranger motto, “never surrender,” to accomplish his goal of returning to full combat duty as a squad leader in the Ranger unit in 2008. This past July he was one of thirty soldiers to be honored at the All Star Game, representing the Boston Red Sox. He now jokes about his injury, using his beloved baseball, when he noted in the book, “What were the odds that some asshole could have made a major league pitch like that?”
Since he is only thirty years old and has served for almost twelve years he is willing to put himself through the grueling training that the Army Rangers require to prove that he is fit for combat. He discussed in the book how he must have a proficiency of 80% for the pushup and sit-up drills, do a two mile run, a five mile run in under forty minutes, a twelve mile foot march with forty pounds of gear under three hours, and a parachute jump out of airplanes. In addition, he had to learn to fast rope out of helicopters without the use of his legs, and to avoid the friction burns by using multiple hand gloves.
Joe stated to BlackFive, “I met the Ranger’s standards and in some cases exceeded them. I do feel there are always eyes on me and I have to perform at my best constantly. Since I have become an amputee I have had five deployments to Afghanistan. I wrote the book to provide inspiration for those who may be going through what I had to endure. I did not want to lose my leg because I thought that would mean I was a cripple. I had to prove to myself that I could still achieve what I wanted to by putting in the hard work and the time. I was helped considerably by my ‘Ranger tough’ wife, Kim.”
The parts of the book where Kim gives her impressions are heart wrenching. She wants Americans to understand that family members also endure the hardship of an injury and must display outward and inner courage. For her, the nightmare became even more magnified when she had to deal with not only the fact that Joe was critically injured but that the Army seemed to be impersonal when giving casualty notifications and then literally losing Joe’s whereabouts until he arrived at Walter Reed Medical Hospital. One organization she is grateful to for helping out is http://www.operationonevoice.org/shop/ (book for sale in the charity's shop).
Kim commented to blackfive.net about her experiences, “I gave a lot of people an earful when they came to check in on Joe. I wanted to make sure this never happened again. In that sense I was a lot like Scarlett O’Hara: head strong, bull headed, and determined. Regarding his injury, I thought I was going to faint when I saw his leg. No one warned us about how much pain he was in. The “Phantom Pains” were just unbelievable. He would put his head in the pillow to scream and cry. I stayed up all night long to press the pain medication button so he could rest.”
Both Joe and Kim are hoping that those who lost limbs, as well as American citizens, will read the book to understand what the injured go through. As Kim stated, “They should not be encouraged to accept their injury as the defining moment in their life so maybe Americans can offer them opportunities to contribute to society and become productive.” Back In The Fight does this and more by telling a story of determination and courage on the part of both Kim and Joe.