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Former Soldier trades tanks with stethoscopes

Lt. Col. Al Ozanian, 95th Medical Operations Squadron commander, checks some parts of an Army M60 tank. Colonel Ozanian received his Bachelor of Science in Psychology from Virginia State University in Petersburg, Va. He finished his Master of Science in Social Work from Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, Va., and then commissioned with the Air Force. (Air Force photo by Senior Airman Julius Delos Reyes)

Lt. Col. Al Ozanian, 95th Medical Operations Squadron commander, checks some parts of an Army M60 tank. Colonel Ozanian received his Bachelor of Science in Psychology from Virginia State University in Petersburg, Va. He finished his Master of Science in Social Work from Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, Va., and then commissioned with the Air Force. (Air Force photo by Senior Airman Julius Delos Reyes)

Lt. Col. Al Ozanian (right), 95th Medical Operations Squadron commander, shows parts of an Army M60 tank to Lt. Col. Jeffery Wharton, 412th Operations Support Squadron. The 412th Range Squadron uses the tanks as a target practice for Edwards aircraft. (Air Force photo by Senior Airman Julius Delos Reyes)

Lt. Col. Al Ozanian (right), 95th Medical Operations Squadron commander, shows parts of an Army M60 tank to Lt. Col. Jeffery Wharton, 412th Operations Support Squadron. The 412th Range Squadron uses the tanks as a target practice for Edwards aircraft. (Air Force photo by Senior Airman Julius Delos Reyes)

Lt. Col. Al Ozanian, 95th Medical Operations Squadron commander, drives an Army M60 tank Aug. 11 at the 412th Range Squadron precision impact range area. Colonel Ozanian was a former Army tank driver. (Air Force photo by Senior Airman Julius Delos Reyes)

Lt. Col. Al Ozanian, 95th Medical Operations Squadron commander, drives an Army M60 tank Aug. 11 at the 412th Range Squadron precision impact range area. Colonel Ozanian was a former Army tank driver. (Air Force photo by Senior Airman Julius Delos Reyes)

EDWARDS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- Dust flew everywhere as an Army M60 tank cruised through the precision impact range area here. The road was bumpy, but the tank's road wheels didn't help either, it actually broke the ground.

Lt. Col. Al Ozanian, 95th Medical Operations Squadron commander, drove the more than 50-ton behemoth, navigating through the desert Aug. 11.

The 412th Range Squadron had asked him to drive one of their tanks, which are used as target practice for Edwards aircraft. The last time the colonel drove a tank was during his Army years more than 27 years ago.

"At first, I was a little bit apprehensive," said Joe Ellison, a 412th RANS contractor section supervisor. "When he said he used to be a tank driver, I figured everything would come back, just like riding a bike."

The night before, Colonel Ozanian said he was trying to refresh his mind about protocols on how to start and drive a tank.

Driving from the Main Base to the PIRA the following day, he couldn't seem to hide his excitement. He spoke of how it felt to drive an M60 tank -- "everything inside is hard and messy." He also spoke of his favorite aircraft -- the A-10 Thunderbolt because he likes close air support planes, and "it's like a tank."

"This is a throwback," said Colonel Ozanian while driving the tank. "There is certain nostalgia."

When Colonel Ozanian dropped out of high school at 17, he joined the Army to be an armor crewman. For 10 years, he worked inside the cramped tin can as a loader, gunner, driver, and eventually, a tank commander.

"Being an armor crewman is a tough job," he said. "It was a lot of field duty and work. Most people don't know M60s require a lot of work and maintenance. It is sort of a dirty job. Everything on a tank is hard. It was a real challenge. But you get very close with people you work with because you spend a lot of time together."

The Blackstone, Mass., native said his time in the Army was a good one because he was given opportunities to learn and responsibilities to manage.

"I learned how to get through tough things," said Colonel Ozanian. "Sometimes, things get difficult but you still have to do them. I walked away from the Army with an appreciation for the perspective of people who are actually executing and in the fight. A warfighter is a warfighter, whether you're a pilot or an infantry brigade commander; your focus is the mission at hand."

Colonel Ozanian received his Bachelor of Science in Psychology from Virginia State University in Petersburg, Va. He finished his Master of Science in Social Work from Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, Va., and then commissioned with the Air Force. He joined the branch because he was looking to try a different service.

In 2003, he received his doctor of philosophy from Columbia University in New York. Currently, he oversees all the clinical functions of the 95th Medical Group including physicians, nurses and all the clinical practitioners.

Though Mr. Ellison said the colonel was a "smooth driver," Colonel Ozanian wouldn't be seen trading his stethoscopes any time soon.

"I don't think I would go back," he said. "I probably will not be going back to re-enlist with the Army today as an armor crewman. I am getting old. But I enjoyed it."