Remember selfless service

  • Published
  • By Col. Dean Lee
  • 71st Operations Group Commander
Have you ever sat down and really thought about why you joined the military? Perhaps it was to get education benefits, or to see the world. Or maybe it was to please a family member, or to get away from a bad situation. Many join the military to gain a skill or just obtain a steady job.

Whenever I contemplate why I joined the Air Force, I think about a friend I made during my first assignment. His name was 1st Lt. Patrick Olson, but we all called him "Oly." We both were new OA-10 Pilots at Davis Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz., and deployed to fight in OPERATION DESERT STORM. On one particular mission during the second day of the ground war, Oly was flying as a forward air controller calling in fighters to attack the hasty Iraqi evacuation out of Kuwait. I still remember that day.

The weather was cold and there was an overcast deck at about 3,000 feet above the ground. Oly had to fly in and out of the clouds to spot the enemy movement then pass the information to the fighters. One of the times when Oly dove below the clouds, enemy artillery lit him up and nearly shredded his OA-10. Oly was able to maneuver the jet back into the clouds and egress towards friendly lines. He had so much battle damage to his jet that he had to fly the jet on one engine and the backup flight control system. He successfully flew the crippled jet back to a friendly base, but in the process crashed during the landing and was killed.

Oly will always be remembered for giving his life preventing hundreds of Iraqis from escaping into Iraq. But the thing I will always remember about Oly was how much he loved serving his country. When they recovered his personal effects, they found an American flag in his G-suit pocket. He flew every single mission with an American flag in his pocket to remind himself of who he was serving. To say the least, Oly personified our slogan of "Service before self" as he served his country.

Every since Oly's crash, I have always carried a flag in my G-suit pocket when I fly, partly in respect for my long lost friend, but also to remind me of why I continue to serve in the military. Some days I forget and view my service as work, or just a job. But then I think of Oly and I am reminded we are "serving" in the military, not just "working" in the military. Oly served his country, and I want to be like him. Though you and I might not be flying combat missions everyday and heralded as heroes, our service is important to the overall mission. Because in reality, we must remember, America is relying on us. We are public servants and have the privilege to serve.

The next time we contemplate why we joined the military, let's remember heroes like "Oly" who gave their all so we could have so much. You may find a refreshing new perspective and greater motivation to do your duty. Let us all unite as we provide service before self.

Lieutenant Olson was posthumously promoted to the rank of captain.