WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) — Jake Olson wanted to join the Army to work on Blackhawk helicopters. He also hoped one day to crew Blackhawks—both of which came true after he was deployed to the Middle East.
In October 2006, the then-21-year-old would head to boot camp at Fort Jackson, South Carolina. Afterward, he began 16 weeks of intense training to become a Blackhawk helicopter mechanic at Fort Eustace, Virginia. It wasn’t much longer until he received his first assignment.
“I got selected to go to a Special Operations Unit in Fort Lewis, Washington,” Olson said.
That unit: the 160th SOAR (short for Special Operations Airborne Regiment).
But it would take some time before Olson got his shot to work on a Blackhawk of his own. During his first year at Fort Lewis, the 160th had no Blackhawk helicopters.
“Me and six other guys as we, we were called the plank holders, so we were kind of this other ‘helicopters helpers’—we worked on Chinooks for a whole year … before we deployed 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 Base, Olson would help load and unload Blackhawks out of C-17s.
“It’s supposed to be basically ready in a few minutes … once you get past a certain point you’re waiting as you’re getting towed out to, you’re putting stuff together while you’re just hanging on,” Olson said.
After his first deployment, Olson decided to go a different route: pursuing the path of a Green Beret at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.
“I ended up going to the medevac there at Bragg,” Olson said. “Charlie Company 382 medevac—so, got there, then I got my actual crew chief training, so I got all up to date on that, and then, we finally, we deployed, and that’s when I actually did a full year rotation in Afghanistan.”
For his second deployment, Olson would primarily serve as a Blackhawk crew chief—guiding the pilots through treacherous terrain.
“We know each other on a first-name basis ‘cuz, you know, if you fly together, you can go down together, so, everyone, everyone had each other’s back and trusted each other, definitely,” Olson said. “If I made a call to tell the pilots what to do, they never questioned it.”
Olson and his crew were constantly on alert—answering the call to locate and fly wounded soldiers to safety.
“Lot of night missions, going through some pretty bad areas, getting shot at sometimes,” Olson said. “The fastest [was] three to four minutes from getting the call to running out to the helicopter to being in the air … so you’re, it’s very, fast-paced 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’s a lot of bad times, but, I really, I’ll never take back the, like, I really have some good friends now that we still are in contact with almost daily,” Olson said. “You know, those friends, those relationships you make in the military are ones that will stay with you forever, so I’m grateful for that … definitely like your brothers and sisters.”
Olson would also serve for 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, email KSN reporter Hannah Adamson at email@example.com.