Franklin County clerk back after deployment

Kristin M. Kraemer, Tri-City HeraldDecember 17, 2012 

PASCO -- For 273 days, Mike Killian endured giant camel spiders, deadly scorpions, sandstorms and "air that was like a blow dryer."

The Franklin County clerk knew life would be different during his deployment with the Navy Reserves, where almost all of his time was spent on a secured military base in Kuwait, aside from two missions to the United Arab Emirates.

But what surprises Killian even more is how just one month after his return to the United States, it feels like he never left the comfort of his hometown.

"It's nice to be back, and now I think about it and it doesn't seem like I was even gone," said Killian, a petty officer first class. "The year went by very fast for me. I just kept myself busy over there."

Now he's ready to get busy again at the job he was elected to do.

Killian, 48, starts back at the clerk's office today.

"I want to see if things have changed," he told the Herald.

For the past year, Killian had regular email contact with his chief deputy clerk, Cherryl Jones, to discuss any issues or concerns and review paperwork such as office hires and performance evaluations. He met once with the Franklin County Commission via Skype -- though the connection repeatedly cut out -- to talk about his 2013 budget. And he communicated with commission Chairman Brad Peck on Facebook a few times to talk about county business.

"It was hard for me to be gone because I'm such a hands-on person. I like to interact with the public and judges and attorneys and staff," said Killian, who was first elected clerk in 2000. "I'm really proud of my staff for taking care of things while I was gone."

Killian remained the elected clerk of Franklin County even though he was 7,000 miles away, and noted that if he'd resigned, it would have cost the county more to hold a special election and replace him with someone who may not be experienced. He said there was no additional cost to the county with his deployment.

A Pasco High School grad, Killian joined the Navy after graduation. He was on active duty service for six years and nine months, then spent six more years in the reserves before deciding to get out in 1996 so he could spend more time with his young family.

With his kids getting older, Killian decided to re-enlist in October 2009, in part for the military's benefits package, but also to serve his country and finish something he started. People can't be older than 40 when they go back into the military, but he was eligible because his active duty time was subtracted from his current age.

While in Washington, Killian is assigned to a detachment with Naval Hospital Bremerton's operational health support unit as an administrative officer for a medical unit.

He never expected to see action, but in March 2011 the reserve center in Spokane called. His duty in Kuwait was part of Operation Enduring Freedom for the war in Afghanistan.

Killian flew out of the Tri-Cities on Jan. 3 for Gulfport, Miss., where he spent four days at the mobilization processing center. He then had five weeks of classroom and field training at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst in New Jersey before heading for Kuwait, where he eventually arrived on Feb. 13.

He had two days to acclimate at Camp Arifjan before it was time to get to work.

He lived with 37 other men in a pre-fabricated concrete building that only had a floor and four walls. They hung blankets and sheets for privacy and had to go outside to use the bathroom in nearby trailers.

"It was great," Killian joked. "It wasn't the Hilton. It wasn't even Motel 6."

Killian was responsible for all daily administrative duties for the Alpha Company, like processing paperwork for human resources, writing letters for the company commander and managing 10 facilities. The company started with 100 personnel, and when he left it was down to 68.

He worked from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. every day but Sunday.

The company supported U.S. Customs and Border Protection by helping to pre-clear heavy equipment, storage containers and personnel before returning to the States.

Killian also was picked to lead two separate month-long remote missions to Dubai. There the troops inspected Humvees, tanks, fuel tankers, generators, anything that came from Afghanistan and was being shipped home.

"The work wasn't hard, it was just hot," he said. And though he worked in an air-conditioned tent, Killian said he was drenched with sweat the second he stepped outside in full uniform.

The hottest day was 138 degrees in Kuwait and 120 in Dubai with almost 100 percent humidity.

Unlike other people who counted the days until their deployment was up, Killian said he tried to get through each day by focusing on his work and not the surroundings.

"I just had an open mind that it is what it is, and I dealt with it," he said. "I just did my job. I had my routine."

Killian said he was asked several times to extend his deployment, but he said no because he needed to get back to his job, family and constituents. He said about 40 percent of his company stayed on because the money is good.

"To get ordered there is one thing, but to extend, no that wouldn't be good," he said.

He left Kuwait overnight Nov. 11 and said everyone on the plane cheered when they ultimately touched down in Baltimore.

"It was a really, really great feeling," he said, taking note of all the "greenery."

Killian landed at the Tri-Cities Airport on Nov. 17 just a couple of hours before his wife's planned open house.

He was appreciative of the approximately 60 people who greeted him at the airport. They included wife, Diana, 16-year-old sons Schuyler and Tristan and other family and friends, along with Killian's fellow Pasco Kiwanians and American Legion members, who provided a motorcycle escort to his Pasco home.

The family picked up daughter Alexandra from Western Washington University before Thanksgiving so she could be home for the holiday. The kids changed a lot in the past year, he said.

Killian and his wife then spent a week in Cabo San Lucas, which was their first vacation alone together since the kids were born. He got a one-month military leave after his return.

Now that he's going back to work, Killian is interested to see what his desk looks like today. He's expecting a lot of paperwork.

He plans to start the day with an all-staff meeting to reacquaint himself with his employees. Then he will meet one-on-one with each employee to find out how the year went and if they have any concerns.

As for his reserves duty, Killian said in January he starts drilling one weekend a month in Spokane. He also is looking at going to Japan for two weeks next fall, but otherwise anticipates keeping his boots on the ground in the Tri-Cities.

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