Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Home from war for the holidays — Siblings return from Afghanistan, Iraq to spend Christmas with family

By Naomi Klouda
Homer Tribune

The Kauffman family celebrates a special Christmas this year — Tavia and Travis are home from Afghanistan and Iraq, where they’ve been serving in the Marines.

The two eldest of the Kauffman siblings have served several missions after each joined in different years. Cpl. Tavia Kauffman, who graduated from Homer High in 2003, is stationed at the Marine Corps Air Station at Cherry Point, N.C., and joined the Marines in 2005. Sgt. Travis Kauffman, a Homer 2002 graduate, finished his last Iraqi mission Nov. 6. He signed up with the Marines a few days before the Sept. 11 attack in 2001.

“My friends said, after that attack, you are so unfortunate,” Travis recalls.

Through the years, the holiday season saw either Travis or Tavia return, but seldom both of them together. Charles and Carolyn Kauffman have two younger children as well, Ryan, 17, and Heidi, 13.

“It’s been a good Christmas already just having them back,” said their dad, Charles Kauffman. “We basically hang out together — their grandmother is with us, too. We planned on cross-country (skiing) and going ice fishing.”

With both young people involved in the war effort for several years now, the worry can weigh heavily on their parents.

“There’s a lot we don’t hear about until it’s after the fact,” Charles said.

Tavia is one of only about 140 “loadmasters” in the entire Marine Corps, whose role is loading C-130J Hercules. Each mission takes a reconfiguration of the cargo space in the belly of the aircraft. The Marines in charge of that space are known as loadmasters, and they are responsible for everything behind the cabin.

Becoming a loadmaster is no easy task. Training takes about two years, making it one of the longest training periods in the Marine Corps, Tavia said. She is a loadmaster with VMGR-252, Detachment A.

“Our job literally takes us to the ends of the earth and back. Who could ask for more?” Tavia was quoted as saying in a Marine Corps, publication.

Tavia recently completed a nine-month mission in Afghanistan.

Travis was part of a reconnaissance unit that made the initial invasion into Iraq after two years of training. His unit goes behind enemy lines to do enemy surveillance, conduct raids or do sweeps to find bombs and weapons caches. He also worked in villages on stabilization and support operations.

Travis can be recalled to Iraq, since he is in the reserve forces, though he feels it might be unlikely.

“You have to be mentally prepared,” he said.

The two say they came independently to the conclusion they wanted to join the Marines, though they had a lot in common that made them feel ready for the military.
Growing up in Homer, the Kauffman siblings gained a lot of experiences that made them grounded. For one thing, they credit being blessed with great parents who instilled in them strong spirituality. For another, they grew up being “outdoorsy” and athletic.

“I worked three seasons in Bristol Bay on a fishing boat. You get sleep deprivation, you’re starving sometimes. I’ve been put in so many crazy circumstances on other jobs — it’s good training for the military,” Travis said.

“We see people who want to be part of something larger — who want the Marines to make them amazing. We come from a strong, grounded background, raised here, and people remark how grounded we seem,” he said. “I think we’re really blessed we come from that kind of a foundation.”

“If your identity is solid, not much will shake you, even in the military,” Tavia adds.
The siblings haven’t served in the same units or missions, and often they are out of touch with one another for brief periods. On e-mail, they use a cryptic way of talking to each other, yet they remain close, both said. While being interviewed, they finish each other’s sentences.

As for worry and anxiety about how the other was faring in the midst of war in separate countries, “I didn’t worry too much,” Tavia said. “God can take care of Travis better than I can by worrying about him.”

Tavia is planning on a medical career when her tour of duty is up in 2010. She would like to be a doctor. Travis plans on flying helicopters. But for now, the Kauffmans are relaxing in their Alaska style — they’re heading out in a blizzard Tuesday to go skiing.

“It’s already been a good Christmas,” Tavia said. “It’s just good to see everyone and be home.”

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