JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. - Spc. Heidi Olson was recognized
for distinguished service by President Barack Obama during a
ceremony held at the White House, July 4, 2013, for her selfless
actions in Afghanistan in the wake of an improvised explosive device
attack in May 2012.
Spc. Heidi Olson holds an Afghan infant while in Afghanistan in this
undated photo. Olson was recognized for her distinguished service by
President Barack Obama during a ceremony held at the White House,
July 4, 2013, as a result of her selfless actions in Afghanistan in
the wake of an improvised explosive device attack in May 2012. Olson
“had to be ordered to stop and get treatment for herself when the
medevac aircraft arrived,” the president said. “And for her courage,
she was awarded a Bronze Star.” (Courtesy Photo) Note: USA
Patriotism! added the Bronze Star Medal to the image.
Olson, a combat line medic for Company A, 5th Battalion,
20th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd
Infantry Division, was recognized for helping save the lives
of two International Security Assistance Force personnel who
were critically wounded in two separate IED attacks, despite
her own injuries which left her with impaired eyesight in
one eye and permanent nerve damage to her face.
On May 8, 2012, while conducting dismounted village engagement
operations as part of the Female Engagement Team, Olson
distinguished herself when an interpreter stepped on an IED while on
Even though Olson was not on patrol in the role of a
medic because females were prohibited from being line medics at the
time of the incident, she always made sure her assault pack was
loaded with medical supplies.
"They told me I couldn't carry
an aid bag but they didn't say I couldn't carry my assault pack with
medical supplies. So I had my improvised aid bag," Olson explained.
Disregarding her own safety, Olson immediately ran to the
interpreter and began to treat his wounds even though the area
around him was not cleared of secondary IEDs.
three other soldiers from Company A, 5-20 Infantry, including one of
the line medics, joined her. Due to their efforts, the interpreter
was treated and able to be moved to a helicopter for medical
"On their way back to where they started from,
one of my soldiers set off a secondary IED in which Spc. Olson
received wounds to the face," recalled her squad leader, Sgt.
Thaddeus Hairrell. "She was also knocked unconscious during the
When Olson regained consciousness she did a hasty
self-assessment to ensure she was not gravely injured, then set
about helping Hairrell treat the other two soldiers whose injuries
were life threatening.
"I took burns and shrapnel to the
left side of my face and body. I had to ask if my eye was there as I
couldn't see out of it," Olson explained.
Despite her wounds,
Olson set about assisting Hairrell treat the other two soldiers
whose wounds were life threatening.
"(Olson) was actually
only on the mission for a FET team. She wasn't there to perform her
job as a medic," Hairrell recounted. "She and the other medic were
handing us supplies. No one really noticed the injuries to Spc.
Olson until 10 or 15 minutes after the IED was initiated. She was
still handing us medical supplies up until then. One of the soldiers
finally looked up and saw her face while he was working on one of
the other wounded. She said 'don't worry about it, don't worry about
it. Keep treating the other casualties.'"
Olson continued to
assist Hairrell up until they loaded the two critically wounded
soldiers aboard another medevac helicopter. Even as they loaded the
wounded, Olson wanted to return to her platoon to continue her
mission as before.
"(When) we moved the other two soldiers to
the medevac helicopter, she kept trying to refuse to get on," said
Hairrell. "We finally got her on the bird and she left. She did an
outstanding job and went well above what anyone would expect of any
soldier who suffered wounds like hers."
Olson was recognized
not only for her part in helping to save the lives of two ISAF
personnel, but for doing so in spite of her own serious injuries.
Additionally, Olson reacted as a line medic even though that was not
her role at the time.
"She stayed motivated and did what she
could to help us and went well above what I expected out of any
soldier that was with us," Hairrell stated.
in the Army during her senior year of college at George Fox
University in Newberg, Ore. Even though she was eligible to apply
for Officer Candidate School, Olson insists she intentionally chose
to enlist first in lieu of getting a commission.
to earn the salute. I didn't want to come straight from college,
having no military background whatsoever, to being in the Army and
having that inherent respect of people saluting me. I felt like I
hadn't earned it," Olson explained.
Furthermore, she wanted
to be in the field with her comrades.
"I would have initially
done infantry if they had let me," Olson said.
settled for the job of combat medical specialist, so she could get
"more boots on the ground."
They (officers) don't have a job
that can be combat medic as an officer. That was another huge factor
in my decision to go enlisted," said Olson.
Basic Training at Fort Sill, Okla., in November 2010, where she
graduated with honors, before shipping to Fort Sam Houston, Texas,
for Advanced Individual Training. She eventually made her way to
Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., where she was assigned to 296th
Brigade Support Battalion, 3-2 SBCT, where female medics are sent,
After being at 3-2 SBCT a week, the brigade
command sergeant major, Command Sgt. Maj. Murphy, called all the
females in from 3rd Brigade to do the Female Engagement Team.
"I volunteered to do that because I signed up to be a combat
medic and that was the only way I could do it because of my gender,"
Olson deployed with 3-2 SBCT in support of
Operation Enduring Freedom in December 2011 not realizing that her
actions would enable her to become part of something larger than
"Initially, instead of pursuing my master's to teach
history, I decided I wanted to be part of it. I joined the Army to
make history without realizing I'd really get a chance to do it,"
Her actions as a combat line medic were
highlighted in Friday's ceremony recognizing her achievements and
Olson received a Bronze Star Medal in
February 2013 and had been named Hero of the Regiment in October
2012 because of her actions in Afghanistan. She still serves with
5-20 Infantry at JBLM.
By U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Christopher McCullough
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