Grateful vet thanks his comrades

Kriesel’s story a reminder of sacrifices, dangers of war


Gazette photo by Avery Cropp
Outgoing state Rep. John Kriesel talked about his experiences in the Army, including the IED explosion in Iraq that cost Kriesel parts of his legs and killed two of his friends, at the annual Veterans Day service Sunday at Trinity Lutheran Church in Stillwater.

On a day of ceremonies honoring military veterans, outgoing state Rep. John Kriesel reminded those attending the annual Trinity Lutheran Church Veterans Day service Sunday about the sacrifices and dangers military personnel and their families face daily.

Kriesel told his audience that despite losing two friends and part of his legs in an IED explosion in Iraq, he is grateful for every day he is alive. He added that he was inspired to join the service by seeing soldiers from the Persian Gulf War.

“Seeing them keeping us safe and fighting for people they didn’t even know so they could enjoy their freedoms was something I wanted to do,” Kriesel said.

After joining the army at 17, and serving in Kosovo in 2004, Kriesel — along with the other members of his unit, and the support of his wife Katie — signed a waiver to participate in the global war on terrorism which sent him to Fallujah, Iraq.

“My buddies and I went down there and we said if you’ll go, I’ll go,” Kriesel said. “You stick with the people you grew up with in the service and we signed it. I made a copy and I put it on my fridge to remind myself that whatever happened, I went by choice.”

Upon arrival, Kriesel’s unit was taken to their quarters located near a tent that had been hit by enemy mortar rounds.

“It was a wake up call that night when you heard the outgoing-incoming artillery fire,” he said. “I didn’t know which one it was but I knew that this was not training anymore.”

After a time checking vehicles entering base, Kriesel and his unit moved into the field capturing land between base and the Euphrates River and teaming up with Marines in order to keep the extensive gains they had made.

“Every evening there was a report of an IED device and after awhile, you learned not to breathe until you got the call back that everybody’s alive.” Kriesel said.

Little did Kriesel know that he would deal with an IED explosion in the future.

The day that Kriesel calls the one really bad day in 10 years of really good times serving his country started peacefully. His unit had gone out to check on some suspicious activity. It turned out to be nothing and the unit was later told that someone had been spotted digging in the dirt at a checkpoint.

“You knew they weren’t planting flowers and they wanted volunteers to go check it out. So I volunteered,” Kriesel said. “I remember saying, ‘3-3 we’re coming up on you’ and then there was a plick sound and a loud quiet. I don’t remember flying through the air, I don’t remember landing on the ground, and I didn’t want to know what happened.”

Kreisel’s legs were badly injured.

“One of my legs was busted up pretty bad, the leg was hanging by some skin and the femur was sticking out. The other one was busted up and bleeding profusely. And you know that warm itchy feeling you get when you install insulation. I was feeling that.” he said.

Medics arrived and two of Kriesel’s friends told him very different stories. One friend, Adam, told Kriesel his leg was really bad but they were going to get Kriesel out of there. His other friend, Todd, told him the exact opposite.

“He told me ‘Hey buddy, you look great, you’re gonna be great, you’re gonna see Katie and the kids and we’re going to get you out of here.’ And he was saying all this with the fakest smile I’ve ever seen, until I got into politics,” Kriesel said, causing the audience to laugh.

After his friends slapped him many times into consciousness, Kreisel was moved to a helicopter and airlifted. The Marines manning the helicopter tried to keep him talking, and then he got cold.

“That’s never a good sign so I grabbed Adam’s arm and I said to him, ‘Tell Katie I love her.’ and he, like the best friend ever, said, ‘Shut up, you’re gonna tell her yourself.’ ”

Kreisel soon fell unconscious and awoke eight days later at Walter Reed Medical Center with his wife, Katie, by his side.

“The woman who told me where I was brought Katie in and asked if I knew who she was. I said: ‘You bet I do,’ but I had forgotten her name. I’m just glad I didn’t start spewing out random girl’s names or else I would’ve ended up on the couch for the rest of my life. Though with my legs amputated I probably could’ve fit on the love seat,” Kreisel said, finding humor in the situation as he had for most of his story. “Eventually I said ‘Katie’ and she looked really relieved.”

After finding out the extent of his injuries he asked Katie what had happened to his friends, and he said that with the look she gave him, she didn’t have to say anymore. He said he cried for hours.

“In a blink of an eye their lives were done and I knew that I was lucky to have a second chance, but it would be pretty poor of me to feel sorry for myself when I get to see my boys grow up to be men, see them with their families and children in the future. It really put everything into perspective,” he said. “Bad things happen to all of us. It’s the attitude you face them with that matters.

“Veterans have joined over the years to protect our lives and it says something about our country that people still are volunteering to join the service knowing they’ll be in harm’s way and continue to protect our freedom.” Kreisel said. “So I want to tell every veteran in the room and in the community, thank you. So many of you wanted to help my family after you heard my story. And it’s people like you who make this community, state and country so great and worth fighting for.”

Kriesel, who represented House District 57A, is leaving the legislature after one term to become Anoka County’s Director of Veterans Affairs.