CAMP BONDSTEEL, Kosovo — When a child is born, parents can only dream of what the future might hold. Few can imagine having careers that cross paths. However, for one father-daughter duo, that became a reality as both now serve together in the Virginia Army National Guard.
The military journeys of Command Sgt. Maj. Joseph R. Viera and his daughter, Staff Sgt. Kayla M. Jaeger's came full circle when both were deployed at the same time to Kosovo in support of Operation Joint Guardian.
Growing up in The Bronx, in New York City, is an experience “Joey” will never forget. It was rough growing up in an area where drugs were a catalyst on the streets — whether people used them or sold them. Viera lived in foster homes growing up and was a ward of New York State until the age of 18, when he joined the United States Army.
“I stayed away from gangs and drugs, a life many foster children live unless they have a way out. I avoided that type of life by joining the active Army,” said Viera. The Army took me away from New York and allowed me to see a different side of life. It taught me discipline and [how to follow] orders; it gave me structure, which I needed during my younger years.”
At the same time, Viera’s future wife Mary was growing up in a small town south of Seoul, South Korea, and in 1985 was adopted and became a naturalized U.S. citizen. After some time, Mary met Viera in Chester, a town very close to Fort Lee where he was stationed. Like Viera, Mary also grew up without a mother and father. The pair would later marry in Prince George County, Virginia, in 1996.
Mary and “Joey” would go on to have three children — Kayla, Sabrina and Joseph — and in 2015 Jaeger would have Viera’s first grandchild, Elena.
Jaeger said, “He has done an amazing job raising myself, my 23-year-old sister Sabrina, and 11-year-old brother Joseph.”
Jaeger grew up in Virginia and remembers it fondly, noting its location enabled easy travel. She recalls visiting her dad’s family in White Plains, New York, once or twice a year around Thanksgiving or Christmas. Her parents always encouraged her to do well in school, which led her to wanting to excel at the cello, a passion that would eventually lead to her acceptance into the music program at the Appomattox Regional Governor’s School.
After transferring to the Virginia National Guard from active duty in 1999, Viera pursued a career in law enforcement and attended the police academy to begin his new civilian career. Following her dad’s footsteps Jaeger joined the Army in 2010, and the Chesterfield County Sheriff's Office in 2016.
“As a police officer, I have always said, if it weren’t for the Army, I would have been in the back seat of a police car rather than in the front,” said Viera. “I am very proud of my oldest daughter for joining the military.”
Their military entries separated by almost two decades — but connected through a strong familial bond — both deployed to Kosovo together for the state of Virginia in January 2022. This would be Jaeger's first deployment and Viera's fourth — having deployed previously on a stateside mission, and overseas to Iraq, Kuwait and Jordan.
“It is amazing to be able to say that my first deployment ... in the same location as my dad,” said Jaeger.
Viera and Jaeger were able to have to celebrate her 30th birthday with a dinner and take a 4-day pass to tour Italy in May 2022.
Jaeger expressed that some years were harder than others when he was on previous deployments, but even while away from home, he would always do his best to keep in touch with his family.
“I have always viewed my dad as my role model and have always been inspired by his achievements and accomplishments, especially in his career,” Jaeger added.
As battalion command sergeant major for the 2nd Battalion, 224th Aviation Regiment, Viera is his unit's highest-ranking senior enlisted leader. As an intelligence analyst for the 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, Jaeger conducts daily intelligence analysis for senior leaders. Both are subordinate units within the Virginia Army National Guard's 29th Infantry Division, and both are supporting the same mission in Kosovo, a mission that has been ongoing since June 11, 1999, when NATO intervened and instilled the Kosovo Force as its peacekeeping force in the region to end the Kosovo-Serbia war in the late 90s.
Today, Operation Joint Guardian is NATO’s longest-running peace-keeping operation, and it takes place in the Western Balkans. Kosovo Force, or KFOR, is also NATO’s largest peace-keeping security force on the ground, which consists of roughly 3,700 troops from 27 allied and partnered contributing nations.
“I think the most rewarding part of the mission of Operation Joint Guardian is seeing the effort of our work impacting decisions at the higher command level and [improving] the livelihood of [the people] in Kosovo,” echoed Jaeger. “For many of us, it [is] our first time being able to do our specific MOS and gain experience.”
Viera also expressed his gratitude towards all the Soldiers he’s led during the operation.
"There are many things that I have found rewarding while on Operation Joint Guardian, but the most rewarding are the professionals that I work with every day," Viera added. "Aviation is a family that works together to accomplish the mission. The pilots cannot fly without having their fuelers, maintenance personnel, operation specialists and other support functions. I am grateful to each and every one of them for pushing through all that we have gone through to get to this point."
KFOR’s legal guidance comes from its mandate through the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1244 and the Military Technical Agreement, which were both published on June 9 and June 10, 1999, respectively, preceding the June 11 implementation of KFOR’s authority in the region that year.