Death of Kane soldier leaves void for ‘best friend’

The family of Staff Sgt. Ken VanGiesen of Kane is trying to cope with the brave soldier’s death, especially during this Christmas season.A member of the Pennsylvania National Guard detachment based in Kane, VanGiesen-- because of his special skills-- was deployed with another unit in Afghanistan when he was killed in July.To deepen the heartache of the loss, that unit returned to the U.S. just two weeks ago.The soldier's parents are Tom and Sue VanGiesen of 137 Lincoln St., Kane.VanGiesen’s death has affected many others-- including his longtime girlfriend Erin Sirianni, his sister Amie Gullifer, his brother Matt and other family members.The soldier's death also has forever changed the life of his “best friend”—Jon Tomko, a Bradford native who resides in Ellwood City north of Pittsburgh.Tomko, a sergeant with the National Guard based in Kane, met VanGiesen while the unit was preparing to deploy to Germany in 2002.“We became really good friends,” Tomko said in describing his relationship with VanGiesen.When the soldiers returned from that mission to Germany, they both enrolled at Edinboro University in 2003.“We didn’t know anyone else up there,” Tomko said. “We only had each other.”Tomko said he and VanGiesen “socialized together” at college. “Whenever we did something, it usually was together,” Tomko said. They both enjoyed fishing and did that together, too, Tomko said.“I considered Ken my best friend,” Tomko said.They often traveled together to National Guard training events. Tomko often stayed overnight at the VanGiesen residence along Lincoln Street.Tomko said he and VanGiesen had a “unique relationship.” “We would get into some heated arguments,” Tomko said. “But they always ended on a high note.”National Guard leaders have eulogized VanGiesen as a devoted hard-working solider who was one of the best at what he did.“Ken had the highest standards as a soldier and always put others before himself,” Tomko said. “I looked up to him and I wasn’t the only one. Everyone wanted to be like him. He was a patriot in every sense of the word.”VanGiesen’s strong military character carried over into his personal life.See full article by purchasing the Dec. 22 edition of The Kane Republican.