Waiting to meet daddy

The Kilen's newborn baby boy Keegan, was born while his dad Eric was serving overseas in Kuwait with Delta Company, 2nd Battalion, 135th Infantry Regiment, within the 34th Red Bull Division in Kuwait. - Eric Johnson/photodesk@austindailyherald.com

Editor’s note: This is the first in an ongoing series on Minnesota National Guard soldiers Deployed in Kuwait.

Austin Daily Herald reporter Kelli Lageson will report from Kuwait Nov. 7-15. Click this image for an archive of Deployed in Kuwait stories.

When she’s trying to fall asleep, lying in their bed wearing one of his old T-shirts, that’s when she misses him the most.

The life of a deployed soldier’s wife is full of ups and downs, good days and bad. For Albert Lea mom Tasha Kilen, wife of Staff Sgt. Eric Kilen, caring for their 2 1/2-month-old son, Keegan, helps her get through the days.

“I go month-by-month,” Tasha said. “I love turning the calendar.”

Though she’s ready for the deployment to be over, she does have a support group — her mom, Karee Ranniter, and mother-in-law, Sandy Kilen. They were both there during Keegan’s birth, which Eric had to miss.

Tasha Kilen holds her infant son Keegan's hand as he sleeps on her lap in their Albert Lea home. Tasha's husband, Keegan's dad, Eric is currently serving with Delta Company, 2nd Battalion, 135th Infantry Regiment, within the 34th Red Bull Division in Kuwait. - Eric Johnson/photodesk@austindailyherald.com

“He was really upset he missed the delivery,” Tasha said. “He saw Keegan when he was an hour old over Skype.”

Skype, the Internet service that allows free video calling, has been a major source of happiness for Tasha, who said she talks with Eric frequently and likes being able to see him. Skype is also the only means for Eric, who’s never met his son, to see Keegan.

“I like being able to see his face and hear his voice,” Tasha said.

When Eric, a member of the Minnesota National Guard unit based in Albert Lea, was training in Fort McCoy, Wis., they weren’t able to Skype but could talk on the phone each night. Tasha said she almost didn’t recognize him when she went to the family picnic on July 10.

Eric has now been in Kuwait since the beginning of August. Albert Lea’s unit — Delta Company, 2nd Battalion, 135th Infantry Regiment, within the 34th “Red Bull” Division — along with other units of the Minnesota National Guard, are escorting troops and equipment out of Iraq as part of Operation New Dawn.

A bib belonging to Keegan Kilen lays next to a laptop with a picture of his dad Eric Kilen up as a background. Eric was serving with Delta Company, 2nd Battalion, 135th Infantry Regiment, within the 34th Red Bull Division in Kuwait when Keegan was born and has only seen his son through Skype. - Eric Johnson/photodesk@austindailyherald.com

While raising Keegan keeps Tasha busy and makes the time fly, it also makes her miss Eric. When Keegan cries in the middle of the night, she wishes there were someone there she could nudge to help her. Or when Keegan had some breathing problems that prompted a trip to a Rochester hospital, she wished Eric could have been there, even when it turned out to be just a cold. She was thankful for the Beyond the Yellow Ribbon group in Rochester for providing her meal vouchers during her stay.

Tasha has been looking forward to Eric’s two-week leave, which he will take near Christmas. She’s glad he’ll be home for Keegan’s first Christmas, and they have plans to visit family members in the area.

“We’re also going to do family photos,” Tasha said.

Photos are important to both Tasha and Eric. She has been sending him so many he already has one wall of his room at Camp Buehring in Kuwait filled with photos. She enjoys sending him mail, whether it’s letters or boxes of Halloween goodies. Eric has been sending her items, too, including a large rug and some scarves. She enjoys hearing about what his life is like in Kuwait, even if he can’t tell her everything.

“He’ll let me know when there’s a sandstorm,” Tasha said. “He’s pretty open, but he can’t tell me anything mission-specific.”

Tasha, 20, met Eric, 29, while they were on the Student Senate together at Riverland Community College. They were married Aug. 14, 2010, and Keegan was born one year and one day later on Aug. 15.

A typical day for Tasha starts around 7 a.m., or earlier depending on when Keegan wakes up. She takes Keegan to day care, and then she does online schoolwork, cleaning and chores, and sometimes works out at the Albert Lea Family YMCA, where she gets a free membership during Eric’s deployment.

She often chats with Eric on Skype from noon to 2 p.m. depending on his schedule. In Kuwait, with the time change, that’s around 8 to 10 p.m., so he’s usually about to settle in for the night. Then she’ll pick Keegan up from day care, and three or four times a week they head to New Richland to see Ranniter. Because Tasha works part time at Kwik Trip in Albert Lea on nights and weekends — when day care is unavailable — Ranniter often looks after Keegan.

“If Eric were home, I wouldn’t get to see Keegan quite as much, but I would still get to see him,” Ranniter said.

Photos of Tasha Kilen, her husband Eric and newborn son Keegan sit on the family's entertainment center in their Albert Lea home. Eric is currently serving with Delta Company, 2nd Battalion, 135th Infantry Regiment, within the 34th Red Bullâ Division in Kuwait. - Eric Johnson/photodesk@austindailyherald.com

Ranniter said there are good days and bad for Tasha, like the day when Keegan first started cooing and Eric wasn’t able to see it. Keegan does recognize Eric over Skype, and they get to see each other that way. Ranniter said she worries about Eric and is excited to see him over the holidays.

“As time keeps going, it won’t be long, and he’ll be home for good,” she said.

Tasha said Eric hopes to find a full-time position with the Guard after his deployment. He’s been deployed to Afghanistan and Kosovo before, and she understands there may be more deployments in the future. She worries about him but understood the risks when she married him.

“I know he’s with well-trained soldiers,” Tasha said.

As far as plans for when Eric gets home, Tasha said they’ve only talked about finally taking a honeymoon on their second anniversary in August. Tasha misses Eric often, but said she’s impressed with how well she’s been handling the deployment and time apart. Though it can be hard, she’s proud of her husband.

“I love being an Army wife,” Tasha said.


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