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Why We Serve: Soldier’s Volunteer Spirit Carries into Army Life

By Carmen L. Gleason
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, May 23, 2007 – When Matt Olson was growing up in Grantsburg, Wis., he never thought that by the time he was in his mid-20s he would have traveled to France, Spain, Italy, Germany and Austria.

He never fathomed that he would one day be affecting the growth of a fledgling democracy on the other side of the world. And he certainly never would have guessed that his new-found job skills would ensure that thousands of U.S. troops would safely cross hundreds of miles in dangerous deserts.

But that’s what has happened since Olson enlisted in the Army eight years ago.

“I didn’t know what I was going to do when I grew up,” Olson said. “I wasn’t a mechanic before I came into the Army, but I got my hands on things and got dirty. I loved it; I always feel like I’d accomplished something.”

Now a staff sergeant, Olson has two deployments to Iraq under his belt. His most recent one was to Qayyarah, where he managed the maintenance of his unit’s vehicles and was in charge of soldiers manning a combat logistics patrol readiness center.

He and his troops supported more than 2,200 vehicle convoys and found more than 300 faults that prevented vehicles from breaking down while traveling a 400-mile stretch of sandy road from Kuwait to Iraq. Each convoy could have as many as 30 trucks and could stretch for two miles.

“It felt really good to know that those trucks weren’t going to break down while on the road; it was really dangerous to be stopped out there,” Olson said, quickly giving credit for the unit’s success to his soldiers. “They did a lot of hard work to make our mission a success.”

As part of the Defense Department’s quarterly “Why We Serve” public outreach program, Olson and eight other servicemembers are visiting communities throughout the United States to share about their experiences in the military.

“This assignment is going be fun,” he said. “I just wish that my soldiers were going to beside me; there’s more to the story than is heard on the news.”

Olson said he has maintained the senses of teamwork and volunteerism he developed while growing up and has applied them into his Army experiences.

Growing up on a farm, Olson was active in organizations such as his 4-H Club. Through the club, he volunteered at nursing homes and with other local organizations.

“My parents did a great job of raising me and my sister and brother,” he said. “They expected the best out of us, and that carried over to my professional career.”

Calling it one of his most fulfilling experiences, Olson volunteered with 15 fellow soldiers to clean up a local Veterans of Foreign Wars post while stationed at Fort Hood, Texas.

“Everyone really appreciated what we did,” he said. “It was cool to see the heritage of military service and to interact with the veterans.”

The staff sergeant continued his goodwill efforts by helping to coordinate and conduct convoys to deliver school supplies to Iraqi children while he was deployed to the country.

“I feel that’s why we’re there – to help,” he said. “If I know I did something personally to help somebody out, then I feel like I’ve accomplished something significant.”

“I’m just a mechanic turning wrenches,” he said, “but I helped get the Iraqi people out to vote in their elections, … and that means something to me.”

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