Neighbors give a warm welcome home to Tecumseh resident and U.S. Army Inspector General Ken Kirchoff
By CRISTINA TRAPANI-SCOTT
It’s been a week since U.S. Army Inspector General Ken Kirchoff, Sr., of Tecumseh returned home after serving nearly a year in Iraq and still, the U.S. flags wave from the houses surrounding his family’s home in the Red Maple subdivision. The flags were displayed by neighbors who helped his wife, Kris, and their children, Katie and Ken, Jr., welcome Ken, Sr., home last Thursday.
The army reservist and father of two has served in the military for 22 years. He joined the air force reserves right out of high school in 1986, and he served for 13 years before becoming an army reservist. He was the first in his family to serve in the military. “It was just something that I wanted to do. It was instilled in me back in high school to do this and it hasn’t left me in 22 years,” he said. Now, his 19-year-old son, Ken, Jr., carries on the tradition, having been a member of Michigan’s Air National Guard.
In all his years with the air force and the army, however, Ken, Sr., had never been deployed to a war zone. He had come close, however. In 1989, he was waiting on a tarmac ready to head to Panama for the invasion, but Manuel Noriega surrendered just a few weeks after the invasion, and Ken’s team was never deployed. In 1990, he separated from active duty for a time just as the Persian Gulf War was getting underway. As an army reservist, Ken, Sr., was mobilized to Wisconsin in 2003 and trained military police there, who were then deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, but he did not go with them.
Ken, Sr., was finally mobilized for a mission in Iraq on Oct. 1, 2007, and left for El Paso, Texas, on October 14 for training. He arrived in Kuwait on December 17 and flew into Iraq on Christmas Day. During his time in Iraq he was stationed at two camps—Camp Bucca and Camp Victory. Camp Bucca is located near the border of Kuwait and is named after a New York Fire Fighter who lost his life in the events of September 11, 2001, and who was of Iraqi descent. Camp Victory is in the heart of Iraq and surrounds the Baghdad International Airport, spanning such an area that Ken, Sr., had to drive 18 miles from his sleeping quarters to his office.
As an inspector general, Ken acted as the eyes and ears for the general keeping an eye on internal affairs. Among his duties, was to assist soldiers in receiving back pay and bonuses. He said that during his stay, he helped soldiers recoup nearly $600,000 in back pay and bonuses. He also was responsible for investigating senior leaders and insuring safe practices toward lower ranked soldiers and he had to keep the treatment of detainees in check. “Our job was to insure that another Abu Ghraib situation would never happen,” he said. His responsibilities also included teaching and training soldiers and officers in proper practice as well as conducting military inspections.
Ken, Sr., who earned a bronze star for his service in Iraq, was appointed to his position by a three star inspector general for the position and then had to take a three-week intensive course in Virginia to continue on as an inspector general. His position comes with a 100 percent access to all military activities. The job, he said, does have similarities to what he does full time stateside as a supply quality engineer for the Chrysler Corporation.
Now at home, he’s in full dad mode, helping Kris, who is a full time nursing student, make sure their daughter, Katie, gets to school and other activities. Kris said not having Ken home was difficult. She had the added pressure of seeing their son off to basic training just as Ken, Sr., was leaving for Iraq.
“Life was busy,” she said, “taking on the responsibility of being a double parent but being only one person. I had to do all the duties around the house, and I wanted to support him.”
She admitted to being angry when she first learned Ken, Sr., would be leaving for nearly a year. He received the news of his deployment only four weeks before he was scheduled to leave, and he’d only just come home from two weeks in Korea for his annual reserve trip. “He was deployed for 13 months already and his time was coming up to retire, so I didn’t really think he would be deployed again,” she said.
Kris is grateful to her family and her neighbors who rallied to help her while Ken, Sr., was gone. She said her parents Gerald and Donna Marion of Clinton helped her with caring for Katie while she attended classes, and several of her neighbors pitched in as well, including her neighbors Kevin and Marvic Welch, who helped her with snow removal during the winter months and whose son helped keep the lawn mowed while Ken, Jr., was at basic training. “People are really helpful and supportive around here, which I was really grateful for,” she said.
Ken, Sr., is having to make a few adjustments now that he’s home. No longer is he waking up in the middle of the night to his bed shaking from not so distant explosions or helicopters taking off, and no longer is he living in the dusty extreme heat of the desert. Kris is happy for that. “It’s been great,” she said of his homecoming. “It’s a relief to just know he’s home and safe and to not to have to worry anymore. It’s nice to have him help with the house and Katie, too, but more importantly that he’s home and safe.”