• Published
  • By Lt. Col. Scott Fitzsimmons
  • 71st Flying Training Wing Director of Staff
As I write this article, my time both at Vance and with the active Air Force is rapidly coming to a conclusion after more than 21 years. As my career comes to a close, I find myself reminiscing about the people I have worked with and the places and things I have seen -- mostly the people.

I had the privilege of representing the wing commander this morning at the pre-assignment briefing for tonight's assignment night. As you read this, their graduation day should be upon us. I did my best good cop - bad cop briefing, although the students I fly with will probably attest that I am mostly good cop when it comes to grade sheets. As the briefing was winding up, I gave the class a chance to ask questions.

Not surprisingly, there were none initially. Lt. Col. David "Slick" Morrissey, 32nd Flying Training Squadron commander, suggested I tell an A-10 story. As if I needed more incentive to reminisce.

With 148 combat missions and more than 2,800 hours in the A-10, I had more than enough ammunition in my quiver to conjure up a couple stories. As far as I can remember, I didn't even have to invoke the 10 percent rule that is customary when relaying "war stories."

That briefing ended, and now I find myself trying to come up with another story...the one I am passing on to you. Since the memories of a career are mostly about the thousands of dedicated Americans and allies we meet along the path, I think I will tell you about one I had the honor of knowing.

1st Lt. Patrick "Oly" Olson and I were both assigned to the 23rd Tactical Air Support Squadron flying OA-10s -- providing forward air control missions from an A-10. Oly was about as hard a charging young pilot as you could meet. A 1987 graduate of the U.S. Air Force Academy, he was the guy that would ask you how high when told to jump.

When our squadron was tasked with sending six of our 24 OA-10s to support Operation Desert Shield, he and I were fortunate to be chosen as two of the four lieutenants that "got to go." We were also the only two lieutenants that got the opportunity to fly two of the six aircraft from Davis-Monthan AFB, Ariz., all the way to Saudi Arabia.

You should have seen Oly in Naval Air Station Sigonella, Italy, a truly indelible memory. We arrived in Saudi on December 1, 1990, and even though we left a desert to go there, we certainly were not in Arizona anymore. Eleven of us shared two tents, with Oly, Chans, Q-Tip, Naked and I in one and the rest in the other tent. In early January, six more of our aircraft and 11 more pilots joined us.

The might of the United States was released on Jan. 17 (it was still the 16th back in the U.S.) and was quite a sight. Twenty-four F-16 taking off in full afterburner with 20-second spacing made almost as much noise as our maintainers and other neighbors in tent city cheering at 2 a.m. We began doing our thing shortly thereafter and were feeling fairly bullet proof and invincible until our director of operations, Lt. Col. Jeff Fox was shot down on Feb. 19.

On Feb. 24, the long awaited ground war began, and we Nail forward air controllers were out in front of our advancing Army. On Feb. 27, the Army was doing great, but the weather had gone south. Oly took off that morning on mission 5051A as Nail 51.

With the Army needing to see what was in front of their advancement, Oly accepted a very dangerous reconnaissance tasking to fly out in front of friendly lines at low altitude to identify enemy positions. He successfully passed critical intelligence, but was unfortunately hit by triple-A fire and at least one missile.

He managed to keep his severely crippled jet in the air for more than 100 miles and attempted a landing. That's the kind of guy Oly was. That was just that day's version of how high could he jump.

Unfortunately for all of us, the jet was too badly damaged and crashed on landing. Oly was killed on impact the last day our squadron flew combat missions.

Our squadron commander, Lt. Col. Bob George, informed me and the other afternoon go-pilots prior to our intelligence brief. Oly was the first, and remarkably only member of my squadron, killed in a crash. Wow!

It was very emotional, but mission 5051C was scheduled and my name was on it. Although I was not too fired up about the prospects of using Nail 51 and flying to the same area, that is what Uncle Sam needed me to do.

It is truly scary how good our training is that we can compartmentalize emotions while flying. Without boring you with the details my own exciting sortie, suffice to say it was as close to buying the farm as I have ever come in an aircraft -- wouldn't that have been a day! I certainly wasn't any better than Oly, just luckier.

Oly was posthumously promoted to captain and received the Silver Star for his heroic bravery. His name is etched into the War Memorial at the U.S. Air Force Academy.

On the rare occasions I get to visit the Academy, I always find the time to go to the memorial and reminisce about Oly, a tradition that will not be slowed by my retirement. He was a "Sierra Hotel" fighter pilot and friend.

Oly is just one of the great Americans I have had the honor to serve with. I guarantee each of you have a similar heroic streak and given the right conditions can accomplish anything.

The only constant is change. Just as I had a mission to do when Oly was lost, each of you has a job to do -- the mission goes on.

I decided to write this article to honor Oly. There are far more significant members of Vance departing this summer than I, but if I could indulge you with a favor.
You see, I know how much fun your career in the Air Force is going to be. Please don't miss out on it because you had a momentary lapse in judgment. That was after all the theme of the briefing I gave the soon-to-be assigned young pilots this morning.

As I write this, the number of days since the last alcohol incident at the gate read 136. I pray that as you read this it shows 150. If I'm real lucky, you will have it up to 221 as I drive off into the sunset. It was a privilege to have known Oly, and an honor to have worked with each and every one of you.