After a lifetime centered on volunteering and service to his country, United States Army veteran Tom Kukulka, 52, has found a new calling.
Three months ago, Kukulka came across a job posting in the newspaper for a position with the Washington County Veterans Service Commission. As a Veterans Service Officer in training, Kukulka is able to help coordinate a vast array of support and unique services for veterans and their families.
"My wife and I have always volunteered. We like giving back to the community so coming into this job where it benefits people is a blessing. It fits like a glove," said Kukulka.
JASMINE ROGERS The Marietta Times
U.S. Army veteran Tom Kukulka shows the various markers that the Washington County Veterans Service Commission provide for deceased veterans around the county. The service is just one of many provided by the VSC for area veterans.
Kukulka started his long career of service in 1977. While still a student at Marietta High School, he decided to join the U.S. Army. He served three years in the army as a heavy equipment mechanic, working on everything from 50-ton M60 tanks to M114 armored personnel carriers.
When Kukulka returned to Marietta in 1980, he joined the Reno-based U.S. Army Reserves engineer unit where he served for 23 years. While with the Army Reserves, Kukulka participated in humanitarian missions in far away locales such as Honduras, Panama and El Salvador.
"We would build schools, water wells, roads and buildings for poor communities," explained Kukulka.
Military service: U.S. Army 5th 32nd Armor Division 24th infantry (1977-1980), U.S. Army Reserves 463rd Engineers (1980-2003).
Worked 27 years for sheet metal plant Dover Parkersburg.
Currently works as a Veterans Service Officer in training for the Washington County Veterans Service Commission and Veterans Service Office (VSC).
Family: Wife, Carol; Five children, Shanna, Sarah, Emily, Justin, and James; 12 grandchildren.
The Army Reserves also participated in local community support. One of Kukulka's favorite projects was helping to build the large pavilion at the County Home, where they had to bring in a huge crane to set up the timbers used for the project.
Now paperwork and appointments have taken the place of large machinery, but Kukulka would not have it any other way.
"It is satisfying on a daily basis. Every day I'm able to help veterans whether it is finding documents or helping them with transportation assistance," he said.
The transportation program, which helps veterans get to and from medical clinics, is something Kukulka spends a great deal of his time overseeing. With one paid driver and a dedicated group of volunteers, Kukulka schedules upwards of 30 shuttles a month, sometimes taking veterans as far as Dayton or Pittsburgh for a doctor's visit.
"It is a great program. I look back and there are times in my life when I could have used that program," he said.
But the transportation program only scratches the surface of all the unique services offered by the VSC, explained Veterans Service Officer Roy Ash.
"They will want us to look for documentation. We get calls from women who say 'My husband just died' and they need help with funeral arrangements. We sit down with people and advise them of their entitlements. If someone gets paperwork and they aren't sure how to fill it out, they can just walk in and ask us," explained Ash.
Rose McKown, 63, of Marietta, said the VSC's services have been indispensable. When McKown's husband passed away just more than a year ago, the office helped McKown wade through the paperwork necessary to get his pension.
"The people that work down there are just wonderful. If I get papers through the veterans that I don't understand, I just walk right in and they help me immediately," she said.
In addition to helping veterans and their families get through all the red tape that paperwork can entail, the VSC also offers financial assistance to veterans and their families if they come on hard times.
It is a service Marietta resident Twila Science can not praise enough. When her husband, an army veteran, was laid off from Fenton in December, the office helped the family with bills while they worked to get back on their feet.
"They are the greatest. These people don't make you feel like you're not productive. They understand that people fall on hard times," said Science.
Another way in which the VSC helps veterans have their voices heard is through a video documentation project.
"It is really under utilized. We hope more veterans will start taking advantage of it," said Ash.
For the project, the VSC records veterans telling their stories and in turn supply a DVD copy to the veteran, to the local history and genealogy annex and to the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C. The project is important because it helps preserve history and people's unique heritage of military service, said Kukulka.
"This office is so important to Washington County. And this job is so important to me," he added.
n Veterans interested in documenting their story, securing transportation assistance, or finding out more about any of the VSC's services can contact the office at 568-9009.