Franklin County Clerk Mike Killian is proud to be a Navy man. When he re-enlisted in the reserves two years ago, Killian was eager to return to serving his country while also working toward completing 20 years of military service.
But the Pasco father never imagined he would be called to duty in Kuwait and ordered to leave his elected post for up to a year.
Killian admits being shocked at first, and spent the next several months thinking the orders would be canceled.
Now, just days from putting on his boots and leaving town, Killian is getting in some quality time these holidays with his wife, kids and relatives.
"This Christmas is extra special, counting all my blessings and spending as much time as possible with my family," he said.
Petty Officer First Class Killian, 47, will fly out of the Tri-Cities Airport in Pasco the morning of Jan. 2.
He will travel to a Naval processing station in Gulfport, Miss., where he will meet the 119 other troops in his deployment and get his gear. Then he will spend three to four weeks at Fort Dix in New Jersey for training and exercises.
Killian anticipates arriving in Kuwait some time in February, and said his orders are to be "boots on ground" for 270 days. He hopes to be back in Pasco by next Christmas.
Killian might be leaving his office and 13 full-time employees for up to 12 months, but he doesn't plan to slack on his work duties while serving 7,000 miles away.
Killian -- who does not know of any other elected official in Washington to be called up -- is taking his personal laptop and cellphone, and plans to use email and Skype to stay in contact and keep updated on business. He has office budgets from previous years stored on his computer and said he will be prepared to process the 2013 budget for the Franklin County commissioners while overseas.
"In this position I'll still be elected clerk of Franklin County. Just because I get deployed, I don't become un-elected," he said. "There is no additional cost to the county with me being deployed."
Killian first was elected clerk in 2000 and recently re-elected in 2010. He said he has confidence in his employees, who will be led in day-to-day operations by Cherryl Jones, the chief deputy clerk.
"I've got an excellent staff. They work really, really hard," he said. "It's going to be difficult being gone, for me, because I do like the interaction with the public and the attorneys and the judges, so that's going to be hard. And just not being here with my staff, and being away from the family."
His wife, Diana Killian, is Franklin County's elections administrator. Daughter Alexandra, 18, is a freshman at Western Washington University, and sons Schuyler and Tristan, 15, are sophomores at Pasco High.
Diana said their children are used to the little sacrifices both parents must make for the family because they are public servants -- Mike with his occasional clerk's conferences and reserve duties, and Diana with election nights. So she doesn't expect her husband's absence to really set in until week three.
"I'll be sad and it will hit me later. I'll just be hanging in there because it's not the same without him around," she said. "He's just so full of energy and he makes life so fun, so it's going to be very different without him."
Diana said she first thought her husband was pulling her leg when he told her about his orders, but she is proud that he stepped up to it and knows her family will do just fine.
"There are lots of families that go through this, so we feel honored to be in that group with them. Some suffer more than others, so we feel lucky," she said. "He's going to a safer place than most. And thank God for technology."
A Pasco grad himself from 1983, Mike Killian joined the Navy right out of high school.
"I just wanted to. I love to travel, I love to see different things and I didn't really want to go into college right away," he said. "I wanted to see the world, so I joined the Navy. That's why I did it."
He went into radio-type communications and during his six years, nine months of active duty service, he spent almost two years in Australia and about 11/2 years on a ship out of San Diego, going to destinations such as Mexico and Canada.
Mike got in more traveling during his six years in the reserves, visiting Japan three times and South Korea twice, along with Fiji, Scotland and Norway. He said he was not a submarine guy, but his unit supported satellite communications for subs, making sure all codes were updated daily or even hourly so any messages that came out of the Pentagon were relayed.
At the time, there was a Navy Reserve center in Richland, where Mike would do his monthly drills, but that eventually closed down because of budget cuts. So in May 1996, as his contract was to expire, he made the tough decision to get out. With newborn twin sons and a 3-year-old daughter at home, Mike had to think about his young family instead of traveling to Bremerton once a month.
"It was just the right thing to do at that time, to get out," he said.
But he never forgot about his years of military service or his commitment to the U.S. and, with his kids getting older, decided to re-enlist in October 2009. A person can't be over 40 when they go back into the military, but he was eligible because his active duty time was subtracted from his current age.
He knew he needed just more than seven more years in the reserves to qualify for retirement with the military's benefits package. That includes access to Veterans Affairs facilities and military bases for shopping.
Mike acknowledged that the benefits are a part of why he returned to service, but said, "It's just always about being patriotic, serving my country." And to finish something he started.
While in Washington, Mike is assigned to a detachment with Naval Hospital Bremerton's operational health support unit as administrative officer for a 42-member medical unit. His personal decorations during the years have included the: Coast Guard Meritorious Unit Commendation with Operational Distinguishing Device; Naval Reserve Meritorious Service Medal; two Navy Good Conduct Medals; two National Defense Service Medals; and two Navy & Marine overseas service ribbons.
The Navy Reserve Force Motto is: "Ready now. Anytime, anywhere."
Yet Mike admits that when he re-enlisted, he didn't realize they were using the reserves quite as much in action as they are. Reserves are being pulled about 40 percent of the time to augment active personnel, he said.
"I thought I was safe, yeah," he says. "I had no idea this would happen."
So it came as a shock in March when the reserve center in Spokane called with orders.
Mike Killian's duty in Kuwait will be part of "Operation Enduring Freedom" for the war in Afghanistan. He will be administratively supporting U.S. Customs and Border Protection and working with Army soldiers trained as customs inspectors, because "anything that goes in and out of that part of the world" goes through Kuwait. His responsibilities also will include processing paperwork and helping other sailors with issues.
Mike said he plans to take the chief's exam next year while in Kuwait, which could lead to a promotion to chief petty officer, and if he passes he might consider staying in for 30 years total.
He said he even would like to make senior chief some day, and wear the anchors and stars.
But for now, he wants to get in as much time as possible with his wife and kids before leaving after New Year's.
He said his sons are proud of him and both want to go into the Navy Reserve Officers' Training Corps program through the University of Washington.
The extended family will spend today at the Killians' home.
"I don't think it will hit me until I am really, finally packing ...," said Mike, who plans to pack the day before he flies out. "Then when at the airport on the 2nd, I will probably be freaking out. It will be emotional just leaving everybody knowing that I won't be seeing them for several months or more."
If he gets some "R&R" time next year, he hopes to bring his family to Hungary, where his brother has lived for two years working for Lockheed. Then he won't lose precious time traveling back to the states, and can tour Europe.
The Killians said they are most appreciative for the support they have received since announcing his pending deployment. Neighbors, friends and even a number of attorneys have offered to help Diana and the family with anything they may need in his absence.
"I can feel confident that everything will be OK," he said.
"It's been so wonderful, all the support that we're getting. It makes me feel really good," his wife added. "We live in a great community."
w Kristin M. Kraemer: 582-1531; firstname.lastname@example.org