Elm Grove residents Nancy and Kraig Klapperich had no idea the danger their son, Staff Sgt. Kyle Klapperich, faced every day for the last eight years.
Until a few weeks ago when Nancy and Kraig were invited to the Pentagon for an award ceremony, they also had no idea how many lives their son has saved. In mid-August, Kyle was awarded the Purple Heart and the Combat Action Medal for bravery under fire for one of his three tours of duty in Afghanistan. He also has served one tour in Iraq.
Kyle is a seven-year veteran of the Elite Para-Rescue Jumpers division of the U.S. Air Force. He is part of the 23rd Special Tactics Squadron at Hurlburt Field, Fla. Para-rescue jumpers spend two years in training learning trauma response, scuba diving, halo jumping, cave dwelling and all aspects of emergency medicine - from delivering a baby to skin grafts, Nancy explained.
Despite open fire, exploding bombs and undetonated IEDs, Kyle consistently disregarded his own safety to bring his fellow soldiers out of harms way when they were wounded.
For his latest mission in Afghanistan, in 2011, Kyle was the sole paramedic for a team of Navy Seals and Afghan commandos. He helped several members of his team, including one man who was critically injured after falling onto a pressure-plate IED. He is credited with saving the lives of 18 of his mates, despite having been hit by shrapnel himself.
Nancy and Kraig were flown to the Hall of Heroes in Washington, D.C., to celebrate their son's heroic actions. In addition to being awarded the Purple Heart and Combat Action Medal, he was nominated for a Silver Star, Nancy said.
"I was surprised because when he was in Afghanistan, we were able to Skype him and we were getting just basic information because they're under a code of silence - so we just first learned of the details once we were at the Pentagon," Kraig said.
After two bombs went off, seriously injuring American soldiers and hitting Kyle with shrapnel, he crossed a mine field to rescue his fellow soldiers, ignoring his injuries and imminent threat of explosives and gunfire.
"He was out with the 69 Navy Seals, he was the sole paramedic in Afghanistan - and one Navy Seal he rescued stepped on an IED and was severely blinded," Nancy explained. "Kyle walked him out of a mine field, and he's swimming in the Paralympics in London right now."
Hearing the story was emotional for the parents.
"Of course, I'm very proud but once we get the story of his bravery in action, it's disturbing. We worry, but he's just grown as an individual and I can't say enough about the training they give these men," Kraig said. "After going to the Pentagon and meeting the generals, this is a dedicated group of guys."
Nancy said Kyle was named Para-Rescue Man of the Year. He also was flown to Fort Lauderdale, Fla., to receive the Pitsenbarger Award for Bravery.
Kyle enlisted in the Air Force in 2004. As a student at Brookfield East High School, Kyle was the captain of the Elmbrook Swim Club. Nancy credits this swimming experience to her son's interest in para-rescue, as it heavily involves physical fitness with water elements.
Kyle is currently training with a new team in North Carolina and was unavailable for comment before deadline.
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