Soldiers' Voices: Farmer and Guard

Reuters News
Posted: Sep 10, 2011 11:38 AM
Soldiers' Voices: Farmer and Guard

SALMON, Idaho (Reuters) - Mark Olson, 47, had been in the U.S. Army National Guard for 13 years at the time of the Sept 11, 2001 attacks on New York and Washington.

Those events made the father of three from Salmon, Idaho, feel "validated" about his commitment to the guard, he said.

"I was certainly prouder -- if I could be -- to be in the military," he said.

Olson, who held the rank of staff sergeant, lives in a two-story house that he built with his family. They breed horses and farm hay on 40 acres, and Olson heads a local office of a U.S. Department of Agriculture conservation service.

He was squad leader of a tank battalion that entered Iraq in December 2004, and he was stationed at Kirkuk, 150 miles north of Baghdad. He stayed there for 11 months, leaving Iraq in November 2005. "I didn't question us being called," Olson said.

Olson said he felt his decisions and actions during his tour in Iraq were tempered by his training with the Guard, an established career and solid family life. He said he was able to adjust to changing conditions and demands, in part because he had gained the insight that comes from age and maturity.

As much as Olson gave to the war, so did his family. In July 2005, a rocket exploded behind a telephone phone bank where Olson was talking to his wife, Kim. The phone line went dead, and Kim did not learn for about 10 days that her husband was uninjured.

Deployment took its toll in other ways. Olson's youngest son Dustin, 8, was a toddler when Olson was deployed, and he ran away from his father at the airport when Olson came home, the family said.

Now, the family acts like a well-oiled unit, each member allotted tasks to ensure the smooth running of both farm and home lives. After his initial shy reaction when Olson returned from Iraq, Dustin in the ensuing years has blanched every time Olson donned his military garb and went for Guard training.

"When I put back on the uniform, you should have seen these kids' faces," said Olson. "They almost wouldn't let me go."

(Reporting by Laura Zuckerman; writing by Alex Dobuzinskis; editing by Arlene Getz, Ellen Wulfhorst and Greg McCune)