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Son’s death gives dad’s Afghan duty a new importance

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    Hawaii National Guard Capt. Muncko Kruize, left, is serving in southern Afghanistan. His son, Army Spc. Brian Tabada, 21, at right, was killed in eastern Afghanistan in 2011.

Hawaii National Guard Capt. Muncko Kruize has a personal stake in the waning war in Afghanistan that goes far beyond his current service there.

His son, Brian Tabada, was killed there at the age of 21 when enemy forces attacked his unit with small-arms fire and a rocket-propelled grenade in February 2011.

Kruize, 46, who lives at Red Hill, found himself repeatedly using the word "surreal" to describe being in the war zone where his son gave his life in service to the nation.

"It’s difficult to explain," Kruize said. "You know how you feel when you have a head cold, and the world doesn’t seem (quite right) and your perception of reality is always skewed somewhat? That’s what it feels like almost all the time being here."

It’s been a very difficult two years since his son’s death, there in Kandahar and here in Hawaii, he admits.

"Bone-crushing depression" is the way he describes it.

Waking in Afghanistan to the realization his son is gone is the worst part of the day, he said.

"To be honest with you, going into the two-year anniversary, it was just really black, and then by the time I walk to work and put a pretty face on, and (when people say), ‘How are you doing?’ my response is always, ‘I’m just living the dream,’" he said.

Kruize said he ended up working for "some amazing leaders who are very supportive, not only emotionally, but in things to do."

One of the things that’s important that he does is take part in literacy programs for Afghan forces.

"That has such a wide-ranging, positive potential to make sure that this 12-year experiment (in Afghanistan) is sustainably successful," Kruize said.

"My whole focus, in any small way that I can, is to make sure that we are successful, and that Afghan­istan becomes a successful state and is able to fully participate in the international community," he said. "And that will mean that (my son’s) death and the death of the other kids did some good for the world."

Kruize is one of about 140 Hawaii Army National Guard soldiers with the 29th Infantry Brigade Combat Team who were sent to southern Afghanistan to train that country’s security forces.

He works for the 3rd Infantry Division, which is the higher headquarters in Afghanistan for the Hawaii soldiers. He spoke by phone while in Colorado for a week to help train other soldiers heading to the country. He was to head back to Afghanistan on Saturday.

The former Army reservist, who used to work for the U.S. Pacific Command, switched to the National Guard for the deployment. He arrived at Kandahar Airfield in November and expects to be back in Hawaii this summer.

His son, an Army specialist assigned to the 1st Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division, out of Fort Campbell, Ky., died in the green peaks of eastern Kunar province.

Kruize is amid the barren gray hills of the south.

It’s close enough for him to feel that "surreal" connection, though.

"Little coincidences," Kruize said. "My assigned position in the truck was the same position he had when I first got there." It was just the "totality of, I’m doing the exact same things, mundane, routine things that he must have done."

Even in sleep, Brian sometimes is not far away.

On his Facebook page, Kruize described on March 8 having a dream about his son.

"He was home, all was well and normal and I was enjoying watching the kids interact in a joyful way with each other," he said in the post. "In the dream I was starting to believe that the Army had made a mistake. After all, the boy I put in the ground didn’t really look like him. Just as those thoughts materialized in my head, I turned to my wife, placing my hands on both of her shoulders and implored, ‘You see him, too, right? Please tell me you see him. Please tell me this is not a dream.’"

Kruize found his son at 14, and lost him at 21.

Brian Tabada was born in Olongapo, Philippines, in 1989 when Kruize was in the Navy. Around 1997, Kruize began searching for the son he suspected he had, even using a private investigator — and he found him, living with his mom in Las Vegas, he said.

By that time, Brian was 14.

"Once we were re-engaged, we were re-engaged," Kruize said. Brian came to live with the family in Florida at 16.

The then-oldest of three children was smart and an "intuitive, sensitive, musically inclined kid" who played the guitar and liked to draw, his father said.

He didn’t do well in school, though, was withdrawn, eventually dropped out, and moved back in with his mother.

Kruize said he continued to remain in touch with his son, and Brian stayed with the family in Arizona in 2008 when Kruize attended the military intelligence captain’s career course at Fort Huachuca.

That’s where he seemed to take inspiration from soldiers his age who had a purpose in life, and he joined the Army shortly after, his father said.

When he finally got "switched on" after joining the Army, Brian went to Japan by himself "because he was totally into manga and Japanese stuff and he wanted to learn how to speak Japanese," Kruize said.

In Afghanistan, he was a fire support specialist, tasked with calling in ground support fire.

One week before he died, Brian sent his father a video of a song he wrote as he played the guitar. His father isn’t sure what the message was with the lines, "You are going nowhere, it’s all so unfair."

"He was a deep, deep kid" who was "on the adventure of a lifetime" in Afghanistan, his father said.

Kruize played it at his son’s funeral, but hasn’t been able to watch it since because it’s too emotional.

The Hawaii man isn’t sure what he’ll take away from Afghanistan, where his son made the ultimate sacrifice.

"I don’t know yet because I’m not done with it yet," Kruize said. "It’s a journey, it’s a process, and I’m not sure what the destination will be. My desired end state is that I come out of it spiritually, physically and emotionally healthier than I went into it."

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