Monday, July 18, 2011

Army Staff Sgt. Kenneth R. VanGiesen

Remember Our Heroes

Army Staff Sgt. Kenneth R. VanGiesen, 30, of Erie, Pa.

SSgt VanGiesen was assigned to 131st Transportation Company, 213th Area Support Group, Pennsylvania National Guard, Williamstown, Pa., died July 18, 2011 in Ghazni province, Afghanistan, of wounds suffered when enemy forces attacked his convoy with an improvised explosive device. Also killed were Army Sgt. Edward W. Koehler and Army Sgt. Brian K. Mowery.

SSgt VanGiesen was assigned to the 131st for this mission because of his mechanical skills. He was two weeks and two days away from turning 31 when he was killed.

The soldiers were transporting supplies and equipment when they were killed in the same vehicle. The company is primarily in charge of convoys and convoy security.

None of the five other soldiers who were sustained life-threatening injuries.

“Our thoughts and prayers go out to the families of these brave young men who have made the ultimate sacrifice on behalf of this country, as well as those soldiers who must now fight another battle as they recover from their injuries,” said Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett. “This tragic incident is a stark reminder of the dangers our troops face on a daily basis for the cause of freedom. We owe them our respect, our support and our gratitude.”

SSgt VanGiesen graduated from Kane Area High School in 1999 where he was a three year letterman in football. After graduation, he followed in his father's footsteps and joined the Pennsylvania Army National Guard as a Technical Mechanic. After basic training, he attended Edinboro University with his girlfriend, Erin. He completed about 2 1/2 years before being sent to Germany.

SSgt VanGiesen never returned to college after he came back from Germany. Instead, he worked at a restaurant in Erie to be with Erin as she completed her degree in developmental disabilities.

In addition to Germany, he was deployed to Iraq twice and this last time to Afghanistan.

"I was 15 and he was 16," girlfriend, Erin said, recalling the Homecoming Dance Ken took her to on October 3, 1997, a date that has become their anniversary.

"We started dating and have been together since then. We just fit together."

They purchased a house together four years ago near Erie where Erin works.

VanGiesen was assigned to the Kane unit of National Guard, but worked full-time as a mechanic technician at the new Guard complex in Cambridge Springs near Erie.

Erin said VanGiesen received just a 10-day notice that he was being deployed in Afghanistan with a Guard unit based in Williamstown and Philadelphia. He left for training in March and went to Afghanistan April 3."He said he'd be back in November or December," she said.

Erin said that VanGiesen was deployed overseas for about four years of their 14-year relationship.

"He was patriotic and that's what he wanted to do," Erin said in reference to his deployments. "He wanted to go to all of them."

SSgt VanGiesen was a member of the American Legion Riders and took part in patriotic motorcycle parades and visits to veterans' hospitals.

"He originally had a Honda motorcycle, then purchased a new Harley-Davidson motorcycle to "keep up with his friends." said Erin.

"I couldn't have picked a better mate for my daughter," Frank Sirianni, Erin's father, said. "He has every quality you'd want. We thought of Ken as a son."

"We loved him a lot," Sherry Sirianni, Erin's mother, said. "We couldn't have known a better man."

“Kenneth VanGiesen was an enthusiastic soldier who never shied away from the call to duty,” Maj. Gen. Wesley Craig, Pennsylvania adjutant general, said. “During his 12 years in the National Guard, VanGiesen served more than four total years on active duty. His selfless dedication to serving our country will be sorely missed.”

SSgt VanGiesen's awards and decorations include:

Purple Heart
Army Commendation Medals (2)
Combat Action Badge
Iraq Campaign Medals (2)
Global War on Terrorism Service Medal
Meritorious Unit Commendation
Navy Unit Commendations (2)

SSgt VanGiesen was laid to rest in Gibbs Hill Cemetery, Ludlow, PA.

SSgt VanGiesen is survived by parents, Thomas A. and Susan J. Proashas VanGiesen; long time girlfriend, Erin Sirianni; brother, Matt; sister Amie and his beloved dog and companion, Bandit.

Army Staff Sgt. Kenneth R. VanGiesen was killed in action on 7/18/11.

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