OKEECHOBEE — Graduating from Cooper City High School in Fort Lauderdale in 1975, veteran Bryan Ackland joined the Air Force when he was 18 years old. He went to Lackland Air Force Base in Texas, followed by Chanute Technical Training Center in Champagne, Ill. He was trained in military airlift command as an areospace ground equipment repairman. Their duties include a long list of repairs, troubleshooting and maintenance work on critical aircraft systems. He learned everything from troubleshooting generators to turbine engines to packet engines. “We had light carts we could pull around to the aircraft and light up the entire thing like a baseball field!” Once a month, he even got to be a flight line cop and check everyone’s badge. “It was great. They gave you a gun and everything. It was a great experience for a guy.”
“We had a lot of fun. We powered the C-130s, the C-135s while they were still on the ground. We had units that rolled up to the airplane, anything from AC-DC generators to hydraulics to pneumatics to you name it, lights. We could power the aircraft like it was flying, right there on the flight line.”
He was stationed on Little Rock Air Force Base, and he loved it. He was there for 3 1/2 years and was honorably discharged. He regrets getting out now and wishes he had stayed in 20 years, but said hindsight is always 20/20. “Everybody wants out when you’re in.” He wanted a base in Florida, but they gave him a base in Arkansas. There were some perks to being in Arkansas though. One of his favorite memories was going camping in the Ozark Mountains, where they would explore the caves. The White River was another favorite, he said. They had a great time looking for arrowheads on that River.
When he left the military, he went to work polishing lenses for Univis Optical in Fort Lauderdale. When his sister came to Okeechobee to start Optical Gallery, he came along with her and has been here ever since. “I enjoy working indoors and playing outdoors,” he said. He is a fisherman and rides motorcycles. “I used to ride horses, but we are all getting older now.”
Ackland highly recommends joining the service to young people and has no regrets. He said he has had a lot of health problems in the last 20 years and the VA has been very good to him. He does not understand why people complain about the VA all the time. He has never had any problems. He went through cancer in 1994 and through heart surgery and is now dealing with Macular degeneration and not once has he had an issue with the VA. “They’ve saved my life many times.”