A Sebastopol hay truck driver and longtime California National Guard soldier was killed by a roadside bomb in Iraq, a Guard official said Thursday.
Sgt. 1st Class Michael Ottolini, 45, died in the explosion Wednesday as he was driving out of his base at Camp Anaconda, a sprawling U.S. military base about 50 miles north of Baghdad, family and friends said.
Described as a hard-working family man who loved serving his country, Ottolini was a member of the National Guard's 579th Engineer Battalion, headquartered in Santa Rosa.
Ottolini, who had served on a homeland security detail in Utah, came home earlier this year and almost immediately volunteered to go to Iraq with about 90 soldiers from a 579th company in Petaluma that left Sonoma County in March.
"The National Guard was his passion," said Rod McClintock, a lifelong friend who grew up with Ottolini in Guerneville.
"Mike was a great man," said McClintock's son, Jason McClintock, who drove hay trucks with Ottolini. "Very proud of his country and ready to die for his country."
Ottolini's wife, Sharon, and his children, Darrell and Stephanie, both in their late 20s, were in seclusion Thursday, friends said.
The Ottolinis were married while they were in high school, and Michael Ottolini went to work as a teenager at Noonan's Garage in Guerneville, Rod McClintock said.
Ottolini joined the 579th Engineer Battalion in 1979, the same unit in which his father, Dan Ottolini, had served.
"He was one of the most beloved guys in the unit," said a member of the 579th, who asked not to be identified.
Ottolini is the third man from Sonoma County to die in Iraq since the U.S.-led invasion began in March 2003.
Marine Lance Cpl. Patrick O'Day, 20, of Santa Rosa died March 25, 2003, when his tank overturned in the Euphrates River near Nasiriyah in the early days of the war in Iraq.
Former Army Ranger Sgt. Christian F. Kilpatrick, 25, was killed May 1 in an ambush near Tikrit while working as a civilian contractor on a security detail.