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Staying connected in a war zone

Photo by Rex McDonald Studio Sgt. Mike Kleinke1 / 3
Photos by Vicki Pearson Rhonda Kleinke and Brayden Kleinke stand by the Great Pumpkin in a photo sent to Mike Kleinke. Brayden wears a camouflage cast on his arm. Mike guessed 143 pounds for the pumpkin, which was actually 134 pounds.2 / 3
Bryanna (5) and Brayden Kleinke (8) walk down the hall in another photo sent to their father.3 / 3

A Wadena area military family, like many others, is using technology to keep in touch with the husband and father overseas.

Sgt. Mike Kleinke (Sgt. First Class, E-7) is based in Kuwait with the National Guard Red Bulls of east St. Paul. He has been in the service almost 21 years, and this time in Kuwait is his third deployment.

"We do a lot of Skype. They can send packages, they can talk on the phone, through the computer," Mike's wife, Rhonda Kleinke, said.

Through the Internet, Mike has watched them play games and can join in himself.

"We just sent over some games to him, like Farkle, and Battleship has to go out in this next package where we send him one and then we'll keep one so then Brayden can play," she said.

Mike also helps with homework from overseas.

"He helps Brayden with his spelling words. I'll email him the list and he'll give it to Brayden over the computer," she said. "When Brayden has to read ... sometimes if Mike's available, Brayden will read his lesson to Mike."

Brayden, third grade, is a student at WDC Elementary, and school employee Vicki Pearson has often sent photos to Mike of his son's school activities.

"Vicki's been doing a lot of pictures of Brayden and sending them over to Mike," Kleinke said. "The day of the open house, she sent in some pictures of Brayden and Bryanna walking down the hallway together."

She said that Brayden, 8, deals better this time around, as he is old enough to remember that his father has returned home twice before. Meanwhile Bryanna, 5, struggles a bit more since this is the first deployment she remembers.

Mike watched Bryanna being born through the internet while he was in Iraq.

"So she's been known as the internet baby," Rhonda Kleinke said.

Bryanna is currently in preschool.

The first day of classes, Mike wasn't able to be with the kids in person, but he had breakfast with them over Skype and watched them go to school.

"It's amazing how Skype and Yahoo Messenger can keep kids attached to their parents," she said.

Their adult daughter Brittani Groshong sang the National Anthem at the VFW Honor Ride in honor of Mike. Groshong works in Detroit Lakes and subs para at the Wadena school.

"Mike's her stepdad, but he's been part of her life for years since she was three, and he's pretty much her dad," Kleinke said. "She's been through all three deployments. He's missed proms and all that, but we do what we can."

The family has kept up with other events to honor those in the military.

"Brayden actually did a collage last night of heroes for the contest that the VFW puts on," Kleinke said.

Pictures in the collage include a red bull, the title of the camp where his dad is based, pictures of his dad getting on the plane with other soldiers and a picture where Mike is at a church pulpit doing a memorial for one of his fellow soldiers.

"One of the guys he deployed with the second time he was in Iraq has passed away from cancer from all the radiation in Iraq, and when they did the service here for him, they also did a service over in Kuwait because his unit is actually deployed at the same time, and they asked Mike to be a speaker," Kleinke said.

The family will celebrate Thanksgiving and Christmas with Skype.

Mike Kleinke is scheduled to return home in May, one year after leaving.

The Kleinkes are acquainted with another military family in Verndale. Sgt.Ken Schmitz is deployed in Afghanistan.