Local residents Bill and Carol Tanner recently visited their son Sidney and his wife, Jerry Ann, and son Jeremy in Arizona. Sidney, who misses the simple quiet life of his hometown, makes Eddie's Hamburgers the first stop for his family when they visit family and friends in Brazil.
By IVY HERRON
Service to one's country is a source of personal honor and pride for many young men and women across America.
For Sidney P. Okulovich Jr., it was also for his family.
"I wanted to serve my country and do something to make my family proud," said Okulovich. "Especially my father."
Sidney P. Okulovich Sr. passed away in January of 1976, but his presence is still felt by his son.
"Seems that I'm always guided to opportunities to make my life better," said Okulovich of the good fortune he's experienced in life. "If he could have a hand in my life, I'm sure it was his guiding me."
Joining the Marines right after graduation from Brazil High School, and one week shy of his 18th birthday, Okulovich's proudest moment in his military career came upon graduation from Boot Camp on Aug. 20, 1978 in San Diego, Calif. The second was his arrival back in the United States after a tour of duty in Desert Storm in May 1991.
"The war was the right thing to do then, and it is the right thing now," Okulovich said of his years in the military while voicing concern for those on active duty now. "I encourage all to pay the utmost respect to those who are serving in our military; including the wives, husbands and children of those who are wearing a military uniform today."
Okulovich retired from the Marines with the rank of Gunnery Sergeant on Feb. 1, 2001.
But civilian life just wasn't going to have the zing Okulovich was accustomed to from the military, and on Sept. 24, 2001 he found a very unique way to continue serving his country.
Becoming a Heavy Mo-bile Equipment Mech-anic for the Test Vehicle Maintenance Branch at the U.S. Army Yuma Proving Grounds (YPG) in Yuma, Ariz., provided an opportunity that he couldn't turn down.
"I never dreamed of getting a job like the one I have now," Okulovich said.
Performing the on-site testing of innovative and many times highly experimental military hardware allowed Okulovich the opportunity to make a difference in a soldier's combat experience.
Main battle tanks, armored fighting vehicles, artillery systems, missile systems, attack and support helicopters are among the many types of equipment tested at the YPG before being placed into a soldier's arsenal toolbag for war.
"I believe that every piece of equipment is important to a soldier in combat," Okulovich said. It is through this hands-on field testing and maintenance of new equipment designs that many times flaws that could become critical in life-and-death combat situations are averted. "But the Stryker light armored vehicle and the Bradley Fighting Vehicle are the two I like best."
The Stryker light armored vehicle is the newest Army vehicle for moving troops or weaponry easily into combat situations in urban environments while also providing protection in open terrain.
The Bradley Fighting Vehicle M2/M3 is similar to a tank, but designed to deploy quickly into any environment, including tranforming for water deployment within five minutes.
Okulovich feels the work being done at the YPG is critical to a soldier's safety during the war in the Middle East and the nation's security at home.
"We cannot allow terrorists from any country to ever jeopardize the freedom and safety of our people," Okulovich said. "Hopefully it will end soon and the efforts of our troops will create a safer world for all, including the innocent in the Middle East."