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Minnesota National Guard
Awaiting loved ones, Red Bulls families cope with isolation

Posted: Apr 17, 2012, 6:59 am
By Elizabeth Baier
Minnesota Public Radio News

When Tina Kerska arrives home from her work as a nurse at Olmsted Medical Center, she starts her second job

Every day, there are horses and dogs to tend to She also must restock a large boiler with wood That's a task her husband, Col Eric Kerska of the Minnesota National Guard, typically takes care of


SpouseTina Kerska spends some time video chatting with her husband, Red Bulls commander Col Eric Kerska, from the couple's kitchen just outside Rochester Credit: Alex Kolyer for MPR

"This is one job that I'm glad when he's back he can take over," Tina Kerska said

Soon, he will On Monday, Eric Kerska officially completed his mission as commander of the Minnesota National Guard 1st Brigade Combat Team's 34th Infantry Division in Kuwait Next week, he expects to board the brigade's last flight out of Kuwait and join Red Bulls in their transition from soldiers to civilians at Camp Shelby, Miss, before returning to Minnesota

Kerska's return couldn't come soon enough for his wife Her husband has served overseas three times since they were married 25 years ago But his most recent trip was their first as empty-nesters Their 19-year-old daughter, Mackenzie, lives in Winona and 22-year-old son Jacob lives in Mankato

For Tina Kerska, it's been a year of solitude in their big, empty house south of Rochester

"The hardest part is being here by myself," she said "There's only so many things you can say to dogs and horses, and they don't talk back to you Many times I would say 'I can't do it anymore'"

It's been a year of readjustment for Tina Kerska and the 2,700 other National Guard families in Minnesota waiting for their loved ones to return

Like many military wives, Kerska sought new routines to cope with her husband's absence She exercised and lost 27 pounds She remodeled four rooms of the house with the help of Eric's co-workers from the Rochester Fire Department

"We did the mud room We did the living room," she said "Eric's office is no longer an office It is now a guest bath "¦ And painted I think I painted everything but the kitchen while he's been gone, too"

But as much as she accomplished around the house, there are some things Kerska is disappointed about, including her role as a commander's wife She attended only two National Guard events and declined many invitations from Guard officials, friends and colleagues She said she retreated from the spotlight to spend more time with her children

"I feel that I should have been involved with more things, and I'm not," she said "Sometimes, I wonder if I'm not really that great a commander's wife because I don't participate, you know And that's kind of bad I just don't need anyone to know what's going on I've got other things to worry about than other people, which is a bad thing, too"

Throughout the year, there was just one thing Tina Kerska craved: the sound of a call from Eric via Skype

During a recent call, she told her husband about a family bridal shower in Winona, Easter celebrations in La Crescent and the new lawnmower they need to buy Then, they began to discuss his return home

"Remember when you came home in 1992 and you slept on the floor for about a week?" she asked

"Well it was hard," Eric Kerska said "The bed was too soft after sleeping on the tank"

"I know," she replied "That's all right You can do whatever you want"

Eric Kerska told his wife that he looks forward to sitting on his porch and working in his hayfield this summer

After their conversation, he said knowing she was alone in the house without their children made his tour of duty especially difficult

"I don't know how good a job I did to help her cope There's not a lot I can do That's the worst part," he said "Things happen and you're helpless to do anything about it except talk on Skype or send emails All I can really do is try to encourage and discuss things, and it's a helpless feeling, it's a terrible feeling, but that's the way it is"

Tina Kerska said she has become more resilient, as are many families waiting for loved ones to return

"We're strong for them, we're strong for ourselves, for our children," she said "And I think you mature You have to adjust to your surroundings, and I think people realize that, 'Yeah, I can do it"

In the next few weeks, Eric Kerska and thousands of other soldiers will reunite with their families and they'll face a new assignment of sorts - to learn how to be a family again

Minnesota Public Radio News can be heard at KZSE 917 FM in the Rochester area, or go online to MPRnewsorg
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http://www.postbulletin.com/news/stories/display.php?id=1493363



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