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Biden on base for Ripon man

Climbing the ladder from private to specialist can be a routine step in a soldier's career, but not for 19-year-old Cody Olivas of Ripon.

He won't forget Vice President Joe Biden strapping the new rank on his right arm at a ceremony Thursday at his base in Kosovo.

Better still, his dad was there to watch the promotion.

"That was something, a very proud moment," said 1st Sgt. Mark Olivas, 47. He and his son spoke with The Bee by telephone.

Father and son are deployed in the Balkans with the Modesto-based 1st Battalion of the 184th Infantry Regiment of the California National Guard.

Biden stopped by on a three-day tour of the Balkans, where he was greeted coldly in Serbia but welcomed enthusiastically in Kosovo, according to news accounts.

Kosovars view the United States as an ally in their push for independence from Serbia, a conflict that peaked in the late 1990s when NATO and U.S. forces intervened to halt ethnic cleansing in the region.

The younger Olivas said he senses that support when he leaves the base for patrols.

"They let us do our job; they appreciate our presence here," he said, describing his mission as a safe one.

Mark Olivas is in Kosovo for the second time in his 18-year career with the National Guard. He said he sees a more vibrant economy than he observed in his tour in 2005 and 2006.

"Even though the buildings are the same, the country has changed dramatically," he said. "You can see more business and more opportunity."

The California soldiers arrived in February to catch the end of the Eastern European winter. They should return home by the end of this year.

They're among the international soldiers stationed there, with Polish and Ukrainian contingents on a 9-square-mile base.

Mark Olivas said that deploying with his son has benefits and drawbacks. On the plus side, he can visit his son's barracks once a week to check on him.

It's more stressful, though, if he's tracking a patrol and hears about an accident on a highway.

"You hope it's not him," Mark Olivas said. "It's something I'm not used to."

His colleagues in the battalion's headquarters company kept Cody Olivas' promotion a secret when they discussed Biden's visit.

"It wasn't even my decision," Mark Olivas said. "We were given the opportunity to pick soldiers. My command said you can only pick one soldier; you wouldn't pick your own son."

Bee staff writer Adam Ashton can be reached at aashton@modbee.com or 578-2366.

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