A St. Paul police officer who recently took a leave from his job to work for a private contractor in Iraq died Thursday when a bomb detonated near his vehicle, instantly killing him and one other passenger.
Kyle M. Kaszynski was traveling in a convoy of four vehicles from Baghdad to Baquba when his vehicle was hit, according to the police department and the contracting firm.
Friends and neighbors placed about two dozen candles in front of the family home in south Minneapolis, where the mourning family said they were devastated by the loss. He had been in Iraq less than three months.
"Kyle leaves behind a wife and daughter along with many family and friends," said Kaszynski's brother Kevin. "Kyle was a dedicated member of the St. Paul Police force. We all appreciate your prayers at this difficult time."
Kaszynski, 39, had been on the force since 1998.
He lived in western Wisconsin, was married and had a 2-year-old daughter.
Kevin Kaszynski said the family tried to talk his brother out of going to Iraq, fearing the worst. "We didn't really care for him going over there," he said.
Kyle Kaszynski had always regretted not joining the military and saw service in Iraq as a way to fill a void in his experience, his brother said.
"He wanted to do his part for our situation over there," said Kevin Kaszynski.
On Thursday, St. Paul Police Chief John Harrington authorized his officers to wear black mourning bands on their badges.
"It's a very difficult thing," said Cmdr. Eric Anderson, who had been Kaszynski's supervisor from 1999 to 2003. "I know a lot of people that are angry that it happened."
A handful of other St. Paul officers are serving in Iraq, either with the National Guard or Reserves or under contract, according to St. Paul Police spokesman Pete Crum.
Thirty-two Minnesotans, including Kaszynski, have died in the Mideast during the war in Iraq.
Kaszynski was a patrol officer in St. Paul's Central District when he took a leave in October to work for Kroll Inc., a private security company based in New York. Kroll has had government contracts in Iraq since 2003.
Kaszynski's job on Thursday was to escort prison officials. He was in the rear of the last vehicle of the convoy, according to a spokesman for DynCorp International, a private security firm based in Irving, Texas.
The bomb hit the passenger side of Kaszynski's vehicle, killing him and Johannes Strauss, 38, of South Africa, a DynCorp employee, and injuring three other people.
"Kyle was well regarded by his contemporaries. He was the consummate security professional and a dedicated team player. He will be missed," said Kelly McCann, president of the security
company that employed Kaszynski.
From St. Paul to Baghdad
Kaszynski grew up in Minneapolis and graduated from Washburn High School. He double-majored at the University of Wisconsin, Stevens Point, including a degree in criminology.
He took a post with the U.S. Secret Service in Chicago, flying around the world on security jobs, said his brother.
He joined the St. Paul Police Department at a time when it was resurrecting the mounted police program.
Kaszynski patrolled from horseback as part of the department's mounted unit from 1999 to 2003. He would have been at public events like Grand Old Day, the Winter Carnival and presidential visits, said Anderson.
Anderson said Kaszynski helped train other mounted officers. He also taught himself how to shoe his horse, Blackjack. His favorite maneuver was to make his horse jump.
"He loved to jump," Anderson said. "That horse would pretty much jump at anything."
During a training session in 2003 at the Washington County Fairgrounds, Kaszynski was about to jump over a 5-foot fence before Anderson stopped him. Kaszynski's colleagues told Anderson that
their ambitious friend had jumped similar fences when his supervisor wasn't looking. "The standard was three feet," Anderson said. "He'd jump a fence that was chest-high. It was one of his
favorite parts of training."