Typically, an amputation ends a military career. For a long time, most any level of amputation was considered to make a service member unfit for combat. As of last summer, only 57 amputees had returned to conflict zones and most of those stayed at a desk.
These three men wanted to get back into the fight.
1. The Ranger who swore he’d still be a squad leader
Sgt. 1st Class Joseph Kapacziewski was in an armored vehicle when insurgents threw a grenade into it. Kapacziewski survived the blast with serious injuries. After months of surgeries and casts, he attempted to walk on his right leg again and heard the pins holding it together snap. Soon after, he asked doctors to remove it.
Over the months and years that followed, Kapacziewski (a.k.a. “Joe Kap”) relearned how to do the basic tasks required of Rangers . He ran, rucked, parachuted, and completed Army drills with his prosthetic leg. Since his amputation, he has conducted four combat deployments and even earned an Army Commendation Medal for pulling an injured soldier 75 yards during a firefight.
2. The paratrooper who led an airborne platoon with a prosthetic
1st Lt. Josh Pitcher finished relieving himself on the side of the road, closed his fly, and heard the loud pop of a small roadside bomb. Two days later, he was in a hospital in Germany, promising to return to combat despite losing his left leg beneath the knee. Before he could even try and return to active duty, Pitcher had to kick a pill and drinking habit he got trying to deal with the pain after his surgeries. But, he learned how to do his old job with his new leg. Less than two years after his injury, he returned with his unit, the 4th Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, to Afghanistan. A few months later, he took over a 21-man platoon and led them for the rest of the deployment, most of it trudging through the mountains in the northern regions of the country .
3. The captain who calmly reported his own double amputation
When then-1st Lt. Daniel Luckett’s vehicle was hit by an IED in Iraq in 2008, a squad leader called up to ask if everything was all right. Luckett calmly responded, “Negative. My feet are gone.” Two years later, Capt. Luckett was with the 101st Airborne Division again; this time in Afghanistan. He uses a small prosthetic to assist what remains of his right leg. A much larger one serves as his left. His second day with his first prosthetic, he attempted to walk away with the leg. Doctors tried to get it back, but Luckett convinced them to let him keep it. He would go on to earn the Expert Infantry Badge during his efforts to prove he was still an asset. After successfully earning the award, the soldier was promoted to captain and allowed to deploy with his unit as part of the Afghan surge.