JACKSONVILLE, Fla.–On his second deployment to Afghanistan, then-Sgt. Sean Karpf led his squad along a narrow pathway between two streambeds in Kandahar.
Up ahead, about 300 meters, a group of suspicious men scrambled on the rooftop of a building. He and his squad moved in closer to pull security.
As he walked on the pathway, which had been previously cleared, his left boot stepped on a pressure plate. A buried bomb exploded.
In a daze, Krapf remembered looking down at the cloud of smoke. He had ringing in his ears; he could taste the chemicals from the bomb.
“It was just chaos,” he recalled of the June 2012 incident. “I could hear people yelling my name, but I was still stunned at that point and I really did not know what was going on.”
Today, Karpf, 33, wears a prosthetic on his left leg that was later amputated below the knee.
He can often be seen in the weight room or on the practice field for the Jacksonville Jaguars — his favorite NFL team since he was 10 when they began to play in his hometown.
In his first year as a full-time strength and conditioning associate for the team, Karpf has found a new purpose in life that drives him.
Helping players get ready for each weekly battle on the gridiron against opposing teams reminds Karpf of his days as an Army sergeant.
“I love the preparation that goes into the games,” he said in a phone interview Tuesday. “It brings me back to military training.”
Once the smoke cleared, the squad leader with the 82nd Airborne Division saw his injured leg and began to push himself out of the crater the bomb had left.
A medic put a tourniquet on him and he was placed onto a litter. As a medevac helicopter began to land, the Taliban insurgents fired a machine gun toward it and it lifted back up.
A firefight ensued and Karpf, who was still calling out orders to his squad, said an Army attack helicopter swooped in to make a few gun runs so the other helicopter could pick him up.
Karpf, who had played linebacker for a semipro football team in North Carolina, was about to face the biggest test in his life.