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Langenbrunner gets expert advice from another capt.

by Mike G. Morreale
It was back in October 2005 when U.S. Army Ranger Captain Chad Fleming was about to embark on a mission that required his unit to locate the second most sought-after terrorist in the Northern sector of Iraq.

It would be the final mission of his third deployment to the country -- just 18 hours from returning home to Alabama.

"A high-valued target had presented itself and popped on the radar, so myself and 18 other men went in to get him," Fleming, 36, told "We ended up getting into a fire fight and an ambush situation occurred."

The ensuing battle cost Fleming his left leg just below the knee.

"Two hand grenades and a gunshot wound is what ended up getting my leg," he said. "No one ended up losing their life on our mission, but one of my squad leaders (Sergeant First Class Joe Kapachzewski) lost his right leg below the knee."

"Before the first game (against Switzerland), I told the guys (for Team USA), I'll be sitting in the stands and if you want me to come out on the ice, one-legged or not, I'm in. I'm coming over the boards if I have to. I'm good for at least one slash with my prosthetic leg." -- Army Ranger Captain Chad Fleming

Rather than transition out of the military after receiving his prosthetic leg, Fleming would deploy to Iraq three more times and lead his men into combat missions as the detachment commander of a special operations unit.

"The last thing I wanted to do was send my guys back overseas without me," Fleming said. "This might sound cliché, but this was my calling in life. This was what I always enjoyed doing. I love this country."

That's precisely the message Fleming drove home when he was first invited to speak to members of the United States Olympic hockey team during orientation camp in Chicago last August.

"You do it for the guy to your right and to your left," Fleming said. "That's really the driving force and that's how these players should view it as well."

Fleming, who retired from the military just this year, also is excited to be taking part in Operation Homefront which allows wounded soldiers to partner with one of the 23 members of the U.S. Olympic hockey team. Fleming is sponsoring Team USA captain Jamie Langenbrunner.

"Jamie is a great guy and solid captain," Fleming said. "I gave him a challenge coin that is only given to reps of a military unit. There were several other items too, but there's one other special thing I plan to give him after the Olympics. I don't want to discuss that for this article though."

Fleming has spoken to the team on several occasions ever since his talk at orientation camp, sharing stories of service and how it could relate to Team USA's international battle on the ice.

"They're a great bunch of guys," Fleming said of the U.S. players. "I've been around lots of professional athletes, but no other professional athlete is like a hockey player. The hockey players are down to earth, small-town Americans who are patriotic, love their country and appreciate what you do. And they're not afraid to tell you that."

Despite his artificial limb, Fleming biked 460 miles from San Francisco to Los Angeles and, two weeks later, completed the 2009 New York City Marathon.

"When I last spoke to the team before their opening game of the tournament, I showed them a picture of me running the marathon and told them that what they didn't see happened two weeks prior when I was on a bike ride from San Fran to L.A. and wiped out the last day, breaking two ribs and cracking my pelvis," Fleming said. "Two weeks later, I completed the New York Marathon (along with Kapachzewski). My point to them was, when you absolutely think that you can't go any longer, you can't stop because it's bigger than you are.

"You being an Olympic athlete and being the best of the best … everybody in this country is looking up to you so you've got to grab that torch and run with it. Don't stop for anything -- leave it all on the line."

Captain Fleming, who has been wounded in combat on three separate occasions and has undergone more than 20 surgeries, is the recipient of two Bronze Stars, three Purple Hearts, the Meritorious Service Medal, six Army Commendation Medals with Valor, a Ranger tab, Combat Infantryman's Badge, Parachutist Badge and Air Assault Badge.

He admits to watching every minute of every game Team USA has played and will be rooting even harder now that the Americans have reached the medal round. There's a strong chance Fleming would also be invited back to Vancouver for one more dressing-room speech if the team advances to the gold medal game.

"Before the first game (against Switzerland), I told the guys, I'll be sitting in the stands and if you want me to come out on the ice, one-legged or not, I'm in," he chuckled. "I'm coming over the boards if I have to. I'm good for at least one slash with my prosthetic leg."

Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale

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