By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service
Jan. 23, 2007 – Injured in Iraq, Katie Kriesel's husband is facing a long recovery at Walter Reed Army Medical Center here. But her employer, Eagle Global Logistics, is making sure she'll get to stay by his side. On Dec. 3, Katie, of Cottage Grove, Minn., got the call deployed servicemembers' spouses dread. Her husband, Minnesota Army National Guardsman Sgt. John Kriesel, had been seriously injured by a roadside bomb south of Fallujah the day before.
"He lost both of his legs -- one above the knee and one below," Katie said. "He had a shattered pelvis and sacrum (a bone at the base of the spine) that they've had to fuse to his lower back, and then he had both bones in his left forearm broken in several places, (a) fractured right wrist and then some internal injuries to his abdomen."
He arrived at Walter Reed on Dec. 8, and though he's only a third of the way through 12 weeks of mandatory bed rest after back surgery, Katie said he's doing very well.
Thanks to her employer, Katie is doing well, too.
When she received that fateful call, she turned to her friend, Nancy Matthews, for moral support. Matthews also happens to be Katie's supervisor and knew Katie would need more than moral support.
"I went over to her house that afternoon and just started doing stuff and playing with the kids until we could get some more news," Matthews said.
Soon, John's condition stabilized and he was moved from Iraq to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany. With two challenges confronting Katie - she had no passport and needed a flight to Germany - Matthews sprung into action.
"I started pulling stuff off the Web on applications for passports, and then put in motion some of my colleagues in Chicago," Matthews said. Eagle Global Logistics is in the cargo business. "As soon as I got in on Monday morning, I started talking to the (vice presidents) at Northwest Airlines that I know that work with cargo ... asking them if there was any way that they could get Katie and her mother over to Germany as quickly as possible."
Soon, a Chicago colleague was walking Katie's application through the regional passport office. She was able to pick it up at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport a couple of hours before her 9:30 p.m. flight departed Dec. 4.
The flight, compliments of Matthews' efforts and airline industry connections, found Katie and her mother flying first class. "My employer actually got me Northwest vouchers to go to Germany, and all I had to pay was the tax on them," Katie said.
She was to return to the states with her husband via military medical transport, but was bumped at the last minute when additional wounded servicemembers making the flight back required that more medical personnel be aboard.
Distressed that she wouldn't be arriving at Walter Reed with her husband, Katie again turned to her boss for moral support. Again, she got much more than that. Matthews arranged return transportation with Northwest for Katie, her mother and a military escort who had traveled to Germany with them.
The support didn't stop with coordinating travel, though. Matthews knew this wasn't going to be a short-lived ordeal, so she turned to her 150 employees.
"We're all a family here, even though we aren't related, and they knew John was over there," she said. "We told them that Katie was going over there and that we were going to try and do everything we could to help."
In the first four hours, $2,200 was collected, Matthew said.
Perhaps more valuable than the funds, which Katie said grew to tens of thousands of dollars, is time to spend with her husband while he recuperates.
John had been home for two weeks of leave in October, and Katie used two of her three weeks of vacation at the same time.
"They set up a way for people all over the company, worldwide, to be able to donate vacation time to me," Katie said. "I have seven months of paid vacation time that people have donated, and it just keeps coming in."
So does the support from Eagle Global Logistics offices worldwide. They have given both financial support and paid vacation time, and the Chicago office took care of Christmas for the Kriesels' boys, Brody, 4, and Elijah, 5, so the family could celebrate the holiday in John's room.
"They're in it for the long haul, and that's just so amazing to me," Katie said. "The support just continues and doesn't lessen. If anything, it grows, and that, to me, is just completely overwhelming."
Indeed, the support does continue to grow. Matthews said the company is planning a fundraiser for the Kriesel family in late spring. The hope is John will be able to take convalescent leave and attend so he can thank everyone for their support.
Though John is very positive, he does have bad days, his wife said. To help both John and Katie battle the occasional blues, the company has created a distraction.
"We are desperately trying to get enough money that we can build them a new house that can accommodate John's injuries," she said. "When John has had his really bad days and he's cried about having to sell their house, ... (we say), 'OK John, I'm sending you a plan book. I want you to pick out your perfect house.'"
Though Eagle Global Logistics has never had another employee encounter such catastrophic circumstances, Katie and John's situation was a wake-up call, Matthews said. The company now has created a corporate fund to assist other employees who encounter a similar situation.
"If a corporation, for instance, wants to donate tax-free funds, they can donate it through this account that Eagle is creating," she said. "They can designate it just for John and Katie, and then if someone else has a tragedy of this magnitude ... other people can apply for aid."
While the level of support coming from Eagle Global Logistics and its employees seems phenomenal, Matthews said she isn't a bit surprised. "We all just told John we would take care of Katie while he was gone - Katie and the kids - and we did," she said.
Katie, overwhelmed by the outpouring, said the value of the support is much greater than its monetary value.
"I will never look for another job, ever in my whole life. I mean that very honestly," she said. "I will be with that company forever, because how would you ever replace that?
"You can't put a dollar value on that," she said.
Individual donations to benefit the couple should be made out to the John and/or Katie Kriesel Benefit Fund, and mailed to EGS, Attn: Nancy Matthews, 3169 Dodd Road, Eagan, MN 55121.
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