Ken VanGiesen always has been a soldier's soldier.
He earned this distinction by his attention to detail in every assignment he was ever given as a 12-year member of the Pennsylvania Army National Guard.
VanGiesen, the 30-year-old son of Tom and Sue VanGiesen of 137 Lincoln St., Kane, died Monday when an improvised explosive device (IED) exploded on a convoy near Bagram in eastern Afghanistan. Two other soldiers riding in the same vehicle also were killed in the explosion, Sgt. Edward Koehler, 47, of Lebanon, and Sgt. Brian Mowery, 49, of Halifax. Five others were wounded.
"Ken was a great soldier," Major Tim Foor said Wednesday in praising VanGiesen. "He was well-liked by all our soldiers."
Foor is the executive officer for the 1st Battalion, 112th Infantry, Stryker Brigade based at Cambridge Springs, about 20 miles south of Erie.
For the past four years, VanGiesen has worked full-time as a technical expert in the field maintenance shop at the National Guard center. This $19.5-million center that opened in 2007 is linked with the Pennsylvania National Guard’s transformation to a Stryker Brigade.
The National Guard facility includes a new readiness center and field maintenance shop at the Crawford County site. The readiness center is the new home to more than 400 soldiers of the 1st Battalion, 112th Infantry.
VanGiesen, who held the rank of staff sergeant, worked in the maintenance facility used to maintain and repair approximately 150 military vehicles, including Strykers-- four-wheel drive armored fighting vehicles.
Mike Noble, a chief warrant officer and head of the maintenance shop at Cambridge Springs, called VanGiesen "an outstanding guy who was loved by everybody."
"They don't come any better than Ken," Noble said. "He was very likable and was everybody's friend. He was a good leader. He was very intelligent and technically competent."
Noble served with VanGiesen in Iraq in 2008-09.
"Serving with Ken in Iraq made my deployment more tolerable," Noble said.
That was VanGiesen's second tour of duty in Iraq. He also was deployed in 2005-06 with other members of his "home" National Guard unit based at the armory along Chestnut Street in Kane. Until his deployment in Afghanistan in March, VanGiesen still had been attending drills with the Kane unit, where he was trained as a military truck driver.
VanGiesen, who joined the National Guard after graduating from Kane Area High School in 1999, also was deployed in Germany in 2002-03.
According to Noble, VanGiesen had accumulated 1,400 "mobilized days" in overseas deployments.
"Very few National Guard soldiers in our state have attained that level of service," Noble said. He believes only 15 other members of the Pennsylvania National Guard have served that many "mobilized days" in deployments.
Noble said VanGiesen was the only member of National Guard units in Cambridge Springs and Kane to be selected for the deployment in Afghanistan with the 131st Transportation Company, 213th Area Support Group, based in Williamstown and Philadelphia.
Noble said the 131st had a "spot" to fill and selected VanGiesen.
"I can see why they wanted him," Noble said. "They don't come any better."
Noble said he "did all I could" to keep VanGiesen on his job at the maintenance shop in Cambridge Springs. But Noble said the National Guard leaders decided that VanGiesen had the very qualifications they were looking for to fill a position with the 131st.
"We didn't want to see him go," Noble said. "But Ken told us: 'I'm going to go.'" "He didn't want to create a problem," Noble said. "That goes back to the Kenny we know and love."
As of Wednesday evening, funeral services for VanGiesen have yet to be scheduled, according to Ronald McDonald, a Kane funeral director who is handling the rites.
The bodies of VanGiesen and his colleagues killed Monday were scheduled to arrive Wednesday at the Dover, Del. Air Force Base. Members of the VanGiesen family reportedly traveled to the base to be present when the fallen soldier arrived back in the U.S.
Also reportedly wounded in the same incident was Sgt. Michele Labant, 31, of Pottstown and formerly of St. Marys. She is the daughter of Patricia and Philip Labant of Rightmeyer Street and is serving her second tour, having served in Iraq in 2006-07. Labant reportedly received non-life-threatening injuries and is recovering at a military base in Germany. The Daily Press is working to corroborate this information.