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Journey to recovery featured in new book

When Jim Kosmo set out to write the story of John Kriesel -- the Cottage Grove national guardsman who lost his legs in a roadside bombing in Iraq -- he wanted to share Kriesel's formula for staying extraordinarily positive in spite of trying circumstances.

Kosmo, the author of a soon-to-be-released book about Kriesel's experience, didn't necessarily get a formula, but he learned that Kriesel had always been one to look at the bright side, he said.

"I've learned that it's worth the extra work to look at the positive things," Kriesel said. "There's positive in everything, you've just got to look to find it."

The power of positive thinking is an important message in the book, "Still Standing," Kosmo said, and one the two men will try to convey as they promote it.

The book starts out recounting the story of the roadside bomb explosion near Fallujah, Iraq, on Dec. 2, 2006, that injured Kriesel, and then covers his months-long recovery at Walter Reed Army Medical Center and his re-integration into "normal life" in Cottage Grove.

A launch party for the book is planned in St. Paul on July 27.

Its publication is the culmination of more than two years of work.

The two men met in April of 2008 at a fundraising breakfast for the Boy Scouts where Kriesel was the speaker. As Kosmo listened to Kriesel's story, he thought it was one that should be told, and that he -- a former newspaper reporter and editor -- was the one to help do it. As the two walked out to their cars together, they talked about the possibility of collaborating on a book, and set up a meeting where they ultimately decided to do it.

The entire book is written in Kriesel's voice, so throughout the editing process, Kriesel reviewed drafts of the story and identified words or phrases that didn't sound like him.

"At one point I just sat down one day, and I'm reading the book, and suddenly I could hear John talking," Kosmo said. "I said, 'By God, I got it.'"

Before writing the book, Kosmo interviewed Kriesel numerous times, as well as fellow soldiers and Kriesel's wife, Katie Kriesel.

"(Katie) was amazing, to live, literally live, in a chair for eight months," as Kriesel recovered at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington D.C., Kosmo said. "Her diet pretty much was Girl Scout cookies and Cokes for awhile."

At the hospital, staff calls the family members or friends who are there to be with the wounded soldiers non-medical attendants.

"Pretty much everybody has somebody there, and it's as important as surgery or medicine, and maybe more important," Kosmo said.

The book also seeks to convey the importance of family, and that family is what you make it, Kriesel said. He said his boys, now ages 8 and 9, consider the soldiers he served with their uncles.

"I want people to realize what a good group of guys I served with," Kriesel said. "I want them to walk away realizing that we have great people serving and that unit I served with, they were just great."

The two men began work on the book long before Kriesel considered running for office -- he is a candidate for a Minnesota House of Representatives seat. When Kriesel called Kosmo in January to tell him he was considering a run for office, his first words weren't "congratulations."

"I didn't have to think real hard to realize that the book would be coming out just about the time he was running for office, and I was really concerned that we would have a conflict there," Kosmo said.

Kriesel offered not to run, and the two wrestled with the possibility, Kosmo said. They also considered holding off on publishing the book. But because the topic was so timely, and the book had taken so much longer to edit and fact-check than they had anticipated, they didn't like that option.

"Enough time has gone by that it's a story that should be told," Kosmo said.

Ultimately they decided that the two separate efforts wouldn't necessarily conflict.

"What more evidence could you have that he's fully recovered than not only is he no longer nursing injuries, but he's going off to serve in another capacity?" Kosmo said.

Still, the two said they'll keep book promotion and campaign events separate, and the book is apolitical.

"Still Standing" is not a book about wars and battles either, Kosmo said.

"This book is about a couple young people who faced an awesome tragedy and got through it because they loved each other," Kosmo said.

The book is dedicated to the three soldiers who were killed in the roadside bombing incident that injured Kriesel, Bryan McDonough, Corey Rystad and Jimmy Wosika. Kriesel said he's proud of the book, and reading through it has served as a reminder, even to him, not to take life for granted.

"It's not like I'll ever forget what happened, but when I read the book, I'm proud of what I went through, I'm proud of my family, I'm proud of my friends, the guys that I served with," Kriesel said. "It's a good perspective ... not to take things for granted."

Scott Wente

Scott Wente has been editor at the South Washington County Bulletin since 2011. He worked as a reporter at other Forum Communications newspapers from 2003 to 2011.

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