Twin Vets Helping People Go Green

Russ and Kevin Otway could be poster boys for South Florida's green set. The 29-year-old twins grew up on a 32-foot boat in the Virgin Islands without a refrigerator.

By age 6, they were diving for lobster. Their family wasted little and lived from the sea. After graduating high school in 1997, they joined the U.S. Navy.

Kevin left the military in 2001 and settled in Miami. Russ remained and was deployed to Iraq in February 2004. He joined a fleet near the port city of Um Qasr. One of his duties: protecting the country's oil terminals.

His bravery was tested in April 2004 when a fishing boat came charging toward the terminals and ships. The military tried to intercept the boat. But it was a suicide mission. It blew up -- killing three men on the boat trying to stop it.

"That put a sour taste for oil in my mouth and fueled a new passion for me to serve my country in a new way -- working toward energy independence," Russ explains. "On a lot of levels, it's personal."

Russ completed his Iraq tour in December 2004. Kevin sensed frustration and anger in his twin. "I thought, 'What the hell did they do to my brother?'" he explains. "It's obvious oil is part of the reason we are there even though there are other factors."

The Florida International University graduates decided to start a company, Veterans Energy Solutions, in 2006, which tests and retrofits homes and businesses for energy efficiency. They also install renewable energy systems like solar panels.

They run, sparkplugg.blogspot.com, which collects hits from Afghanistan and Iraq. Lately, they've been writing about gas prices. When gas prices rise, energy costs typically follow suit. "What folks need to understand is this isn't going to end anytime soon," Russ says. "It will get worse before it gets better."

The home is one place you can still have control. "You pump the gas and you pay for it," Kevin insists. "At home, you can make changes. You can save money there."

The message is spreading. They were recently contacted by a Marine still in Iraq. He wants them to install solar panels on his home when he returns.

-- Janine Zeitlin

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