John’s Journey – A Solider’s Long Journey Home

Thursday's Editorial   —   Posted on May 24, 2007

(by Joe Fryer, FamiliesUnitedMission.com) – The nation’s capital is more than 6,000 miles from Baghdad. It is here, that the course of war is charted. It is also here, at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, that the battle after the war is waged.

It’s January 23rd. On the military hospital’s fifth floor, in Ward 57 – a ward dedicated to amputees – Sgt. John Kriesel is recovering from yet another surgery. This one was minor, just a quick incision to clean out what remains of his right leg and prevent infection.

At this point, surgeries are so routine, Kriesel has lost count. He figures the total is now somewhere in the mid-20s. He hopes this was the last one.

Kriesel makes no attempt to hide what remains of his legs.

“I’ll show everyone,” he says. “I’m proud of these injuries.”

He lost his right leg just below the knee, his left leg just above the knee. They are life-altering injuries that can never truly heal.

“It’s almost like I’m starting over as a new person, so to speak,” Kriesel says. “‘Cuz I’m the same me.”

He is the same guy who enlisted in the Minnesota National Guard the day after his 17th birthday, because he “could not wait.”

He is the same guy who could have left the military after a mission in Kosovo, but chose to go to Iraq with his friends.

“From the beginning of this thing, I believed in it,” Kriesel says. “I’ve kind-of been on a soapbox about the whole thing and I figure, you know what? I’m going to put my money where my mouth is.”

After training for six months at Camp Shelby, Mississippi, alongside 2,600 other Minnesota guardsmen, Kriesel flew into Iraq on April 8th, the day of his wife’s 26th birthday.

“I was scared out of mind, actually,” he recalls.

After just one night at Camp Fallujah, Kriesel quickly learned Iraq was no Kosovo.

“I just sat there and I must’ve gotten a half hour of sleep because every time I’d start to doze off, boom!”

Before long, though, Kriesel and his buddies settled into a routine. They thought the call to check on some suspicious activity December 2nd would be routine, too. “I mean, it really was just a normal patrol,” Kriesel says.

He was riding shotgun in a new, fully-armored Humvee, when the left tire triggered a 200-pound explosive.

“It was out of nowhere,” Kriesel says.

The blast threw the vehicle – and its occupants – up in the air.

“I just remember, when I was laying there, looking at just a tangled wreck that had no resemblance of a Humvee,” he says.  Then, he looked down and noticed one leg was gone. The other, he describes as “hamburger.” “I saw that and that’s when I thought, this is it. I’m done,” he said.

But Kriesel was calm and immediately asked for help from those who were riding in the vehicle in front of him.

“I yelled to them. I said, I need tourniquets! And they were just on it, like that,” he says with a snap.

He tried to block out the rest.

“I knew there were people worse off, I knew it,” he says. “And so I just closed my eyes, then started to pray for that helicopter to hurry up and get there.”

Moments after getting picked up by the chopper, everything went black. Kriesel didn’t open his eyes for eight days. By that point, he was at Walter Reed.

“When I woke up, I saw that I was in the hospital, and I looked down and I thought, Yup, it’s true. It did happen.”

His wife Katie joined him at a military hospital in Germany, before he was transferred to Walter Reed, and she has remained by his side from that moment on.

Kriesel remembers asking Katie if everybody else on patrol made it out. “She had that look on her face and I thought,” Kriesel pauses and shakes his head, “It was two of my best friends.”

The blast killed Spc. Bryan McDonough, of Maplewood, and Spc. Corey Rystad, of Red Lake Falls. Two fallen soldiers flanked Kriesel in a picture that was snapped just two hours before the fateful patrol. Kriesel’s arm was wrapped around Rystad.

“That is the worst part. I really couldn’t care about my legs. These prosthetics they have nowadays, I’m gonna be fine. But there’s no replacing those two guys.”

It seems broken hearts are often the hardest to rehabilitate.

“It’s difficult to just not be overjoyed that he’s still here,” Katie says, “but to know that those other families grieve so much. That’s difficult.”

Katie wishes, so badly, she could fix her husband. It’s why she always sleeps in the chair right next to his bed, like an assistant to the nurse, like an extension of John himself.

“There’s a lot of things for him that I can’t fix or I can’t make better,” she says. “But there’s a lot of things I can do, and all of those things, I want to do.”

Her faith still amazes John.

“A lot of wives would’ve bounced already,” he says with a laugh. “They would’ve been like, I’ve had enough of you – legless!”

While John focuses on rebuilding his mind and body in Washington, friends and family back in Minnesota are concentrating on just about every other aspect of his life.

Katie’s parents, Harold and Rita Glazebrook, are now taking care of John and Katie’s two boys, Elijah, 5, and Broden, 4. Never mind that the Glazebrooks already raised five of their own children, or that Harold retired last September.

“It can’t be any other way,” Rita says. “This is our job.”

Their goal is to keep some stability in the boys’ lives. That’s why they still go to the same daycare, and Elijah still attends the same school. In fact, the Glazebrooks’ home in Cottage Grove is just a few minutes from the boys’ home.

“I’d say we’re in a pretty comfortable routine right now,” Rita says. “But they’ve had their ups and downs, too. Some days aren’t so good.”

The boys visited their parents in Washington around Christmas. They left for a second visit at the end of January.

“They’re just so stinkin’ cute,” Sgt. Kriesel says with a smile.
 
A picture of the boys hangs over his hospital bed. They’re not bothered by his injuries. In fact, Broden wouldn’t mind getting his own “bionic legs.”

“Katie explained, no, you only get those if your leg’s wounded. Yours is fine. And he said, ‘Well, ma, this one’s not working so well.'”

Kriesel’s new legs will come in March, after his pelvic injuries heal. Learning to walk again won’t be easy. It will take months of therapy.

“I don’t think for John it’s going to be a challenge,” says Capt. Marilyn Rodgers, who will oversee Kriesel’s physical therapy. “I think with appropriate training, he’s going to do fine.”

In addition to new legs, the Kriesels need a new, handicap-accessible home. They’ve already picked out the land in Cottage Grove, which is just minutes from their current home. Now, they need the money to build it. Experts tell the family such homes can cost between $400,000 – $500,000.

To help, more than 3,000 people attended a benefit for Sgt. Kriesel at the Hugo American Legion in mid-January.

“It’s enough to make a man cry,” says Jackson Buckingham, a close friend and co-organizer. “It’s absolutely, overwhelmingly beautiful.”

Friends and family raised thousands and thousands of dollars for the Kriesels. And they’re not done.

“John feels that he’s not a hero, but in my eyes, and in the letters I’ve read, he is a hero,” says Eric Negron, a friend and benefit co-organizer.

When it was time for Kriesel to get his Purple Heart, he only wanted one man to present it: President Bush.

“He takes over a room,” Kriesel says. “He walks in and you get the feeling that everything’s OK.”

Despite what happened, the president’s approval rating is 100 percent to Sgt. Kriesel.

“We all knew what could happen. We volunteered. And I support the cause. I have no regrets,” he says. “The only two regrets are that two of my buddies in the vehicle died.”

Two lives lost. Two legs gone. But at the core, Sgt. John Kriesel truly is the same guy.
 
– By Joe Fryer, KARE 11 News

Reprinted for educational purposes on May 24, 2007 from Families United For Our Troops and Their Mission. Visit the website at familiesunitedmission.com/docs/blog/

Questions

1.  What happened to John Kriesel?

2.  Write the three adjectives that you think best describe John’s character.  Explain your choices. 

3.  Re-read the last several paragraphs of the article:
When it was time for Kriesel to get his Purple Heart, he only wanted one man to present it: President Bush.  “He takes over a room,” Kriesel says. “He walks in and you get the feeling that everything’s OK.”
Despite what happened, the president’s approval rating is 100 percent to Sgt. Kriesel.
“We all knew what could happen. We volunteered. And I support the cause. I have no regrets,” he says. “The only two regrets are that two of my buddies in the vehicle died.”
What do you think of John’s attitude?

For an update on John Kriesel’s progress, go to KARE 11 (the NBC affiliate in Minneapolis) here.