WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) — Jake Olson wanted to join the Army to work on Blackhawk helicopters. He also had hopes that one day he would be part of the crew of the Blackhawks, which came true after being deployed to the Middle East.
In October 2006, the then 21-year-old would head to training camp at Fort Jackson, South Carolina. Next, he began 16 weeks of intense training to become a Blackhawk helicopter mechanic at Fort Eustace, Virginia. It wasn’t long before he received his first assignment.
“I was selected to go to a special operations unit at Fort Lewis, Washington,” Olson said.
That unit: the 160th SOAR (short for Special Operations Airborne Regiment).
But it would be some time before Olson got the chance to work on a Blackhawk of his own. During its first year at Fort Lewis, the 160th had no Blackhawk helicopters.
“Me and six other guys like us, we were called the ax-bearers, so we were sort of other ‘helicopter helpers’ — we worked on Chinooks for a whole year … before deploying to Iraq,” Olson said.
In 2007, Olson and the 160th were stationed 40 miles north of Baghdad, constantly rotating in and out of the country every few months.
While at Balad Air Force Base, Olson helped load and unload Blackhawks from C-17s.
“It should be pretty much ready in minutes … once you get past a certain point where you’re waiting while you’re being towed, you’re pulling things together while you’re just holding on,” Olson said.
After his first deployment, Olson decided to go a different route: follow the path of a Green Beret to Fort Bragg, Virginia.
“I ended up going to the medevac there in Bragg,” Olson said. “Charlie Company 382 medevac – so, I got there, then I got my actual squad leader training, so I got up to speed on that, and then, finally, we deployed, and that’s when I actually did a rotation of a whole year in Afghanistan”.
For his second deployment, Olson would primarily serve as Blackhawk’s crew chief, guiding pilots through treacherous terrain.
“We know each other by first name because, you know, if you fly together, you can go down together, so everybody, everybody had each other’s backs and they trusted each other, definitely,” Olson said. “If I’ve made a call to tell the pilots what to do, they’ve never questioned it.”
Olson and his crew were on constant alert, answering the call to locate and bring wounded soldiers to safety.
“A lot of night missions, going through some pretty bad areas, sometimes get hit,” Olson said. “The fastest [was] three or four minutes from getting the call to running to the helicopter to being in the air… so six, it’s very fast, so it definitely gets your adrenaline going and your blood pumping when you get that call.
Olson would serve in Afghanistan for 11 months and help save hundreds of lives in his six years of active duty.
“There are a lot of bad times, but, really, I’m never going back, like, I have really good friends now that we’re still in touch with on an almost daily basis,” Olson said. “You know, those friends, those relationships you make in the military are the ones that are going to stay with you forever, so I’m thankful for that…definitely like your brothers and sisters.”
Olson would also serve two years in the reserves. After his time in the military, Olson would go on to work as a civilian contractor, once again working on Blackhawks, only this time in Saudi Arabia.
If you would like to nominate a veteran for our Veteran Salute, please email KSN reporter Hannah Adamson at [email protected].