*This article is part of a special online edition*
Ken VanGiesen never had any regrets about his decision to join the Pennsylvania Army National Guard after graduating from Kane Area High School in 1999.
"If I had it to do over again, I still would do it," VanGiesen told The Kane Republican in 2005 before the first of his two deployments in Iraq. "I'm proud to be able to do it."
This brave and loyal American lost his life Monday while serving with a National Guard unit in Afghanistan.
Just 30 years old, the soldier is the son of Tom and Sue VanGiesen of 137 Lincoln St., Kane. He and his longtime girlfriend, Erin Sirianni of Kane, have been living in a house they purchased in Erie where VanGiesen had been working with the National Guard.
The fallen soldier has been a member of the National Guard unit based at the Kane Armory along Chestnut Street. Because of his unique skills as a mechanic, Staff Sgt. VanGiesen was pulled from his "home" base to go to Afghanistan with another National Guard unit that needed someone with his expertise.
Two other members of that same unit also were killed Monday along with VanGiesen when their vehicle hit an "improvised explosive device (IED)" in eastern Afghanistan. The unit was part of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). The armored vehicle reportedly was part of a convoy.
According to a spokesman for the Pennsylvania Army National Guard, the deaths of VanGiesen and his two colleagues Monday means that nine members of the Pennsylvania National Guard now have sacrificed their lives in Afghanistan. The spokesman said another 30 members of the Pennsylvania National Guard have been killed in Iraq.
The National Guard spokesman said he is unable to provide further details on the tragic incident at this time.
According to VanGiesen's father-- a former member of the National Guard himself, the body of his son is scheduled to arrive today at the Dover, Del. Air Force Base.
Members of the VanGiesen family left Tuesday to be present at the Air Force base in Delaware today when the body of the fallen soldier arrives back in the U.S.
Tom VanGiesen said that services for his son would be held at the Ronald McDonald Funeral Home in Kane. Arrangements are incomplete.
A spokesman for the National Guard said a highly-trained military funeral detail would be dispatched to Kane for the funeral service--but only if such a military funeral is requested by the family.
The fallen soldier is the youngest of three children in his family. His older brother is Matt VanGiesen, who lives in Oak Harbor, Wash. His sister is Amie Gullifer of Kane.
VanGiesen and his girlfriend, Erin Sirianni met while attending Kane High School and have been together ever since.
During an interview with The Kane Republican in 2005, VanGiesen supported the U.S. presence in Iraq.
"I feel we need to be over there," he said. "The job needs to be done."
As a youngster, VanGiesen often repaired cars and trucks with his maternal grandfather, Rowland Proashas, a mechanic who had his own repair shop. This experience proved valuable for VanGiesen when he joined the National Guard and helped repair Humvees, cargo trucks and other Army vehicles. His special skills also led him to be deployed in Afghanistan earlier this year with a National Guard unit other than the one based in Kane.
After joining the National Guard following high school, VanGiesen attended Edinboro University to major in environmental geology. However, he interrupted his college education to volunteer for deployment in Iraq with 11 other Kane-based National Guard soldiers.
Before serving two separate stints in Iraq, VanGiesen was deployed in Germany with the National Guard unit from Kane. During one deployment in Iraq, VanGiesen suffered a serious digestive disorder.
VanGiesen had nothing but praise for the National Guard when he was interviewed by The Kane Republican in 2005.
He said that serving in the military is "a good experience in general" and has helped him learned how to "handle responsibilities."
The American flag at the memorial point at Evergreen Park in Kane is at half-staff in honor of VanGiesen.
The death of the Kane soldier has sent shock waves through the community. Many knew the personable VanGiesen. Even more local residents know the family.
Sue and Tom VanGiesen just 10 days ago participated in the Relay For Life to benefit the American Cancer Society. Sue plays in the Kane Guitar Group, which performed at the Relay in Evergreen Park.
Tributes to the fallen soldier already are pouring in from those who knew him.
Norm Schreckengost, chief of the Kane Volunteer Fire Department, said he and VanGiesen have been friends "since we were little."
"He wasn't afraid to do anything," Schreckengost said. "He was a guy you could always turn to. He was a great person to hang out with. He was a loyal friend."
Schreckengost said the fire department is "at the disposal of the family" for "whatever they may need." The father of the fallen soldier is a past assistant chief for the fire department. The mother of the soldier is a past member of the fire department's Ladies Auxiliary.
"This is a tough time, but it's a time when the whole community will pull together for the family," Schreckengost said.
Many already have expressed their condolences to the family with notes written on Ken VanGiesen's site on Facebook, a social network on the internet.
Joyce Cochran of Kane called the death of VanGiesen "a terrible, terrible thing."
"We see this on the news, but we don't think it's so close to home," she said.
Cochran is friends with the parents whom she calls "wonderful people."
"They're such a Christian family," she said. "They'll get through this, but it will be tough."
From her personal knowledge, she said she knows VanGiesen was proud to serve in the National Guard.
"Our country meant a lot to him," Cochran said.
Carl Wilson Jr. and his wife, Betty of Kane have had a very special relationship with VanGiesen through their late son, Shawn, who died seven years ago after a long battle with cystic fibrosis.
"Ken and Shawn grew up together," Carl said. "They spent a lot of time at our house. They were real good friends. Ken would do anything for you. He was a down-to-earth guy and a true friend to our son."
"Ken was Shawn's buddy," Betty Wilson said as she fought to hold back tears. "They did a lot together. Even though our son was very sick, Ken never deserted him. He was a loyal friend."