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thedrifter
05-14-07, 09:28 AM
War Story: CPL Michael Olson
Marine Uses Music to Share War Experience

Jill Hanks
12 News
May. 11, 2007 03:05 PM

Michael Olson went to boot camp in July 2003. The Arcadia High School grad was just 18 years old. He deployed to Iraq in 2006, where he was assigned to work in the armory at Al Asad Air Base.

He worked all hours of the day and night, with his day usually kicking off around 2 a.m. "I'd check out weapons and I'd take in weapons, had to make sure that they were cleaned and properly stored," he says. He was also responsible for issuing ammunition. advertisement

There was only one entrance and exit to the armory, so Olson was often the last guy the troops saw before their missions, and the first guy they saw when they returned.

Olson says, "It's like, 'hey, take care guys, see ya' when you come back'... so it's kind of freaky, it's like, 'hey, I might not see them again.'"

On March 3, 2006, it was Olson's close buddy who didn't come back. Because Olson worked on base, he was often the first to hear about things and that day he says heard the whispers around the compound; a truck had rolled over and a Marine, from 29 Palms, California, Olson's base, had been killed.

Olson says because it was still early in their deployment, the groups of Marines hadn't really mingled yet, so the guys from 29 Palms were still a pretty tight bunch.

"Who is it, who is it?" Olson remembers asking as he and a co-worker rushed over to the manifest to see which Marines were out on missions. "And it came down to 3 names," he says, "And I mean it's pretty horrible, I'm looking and I see 3 names and I'm like, man, and I started picking favorites, who do I like the most that I do not want to see gone?"

That moment sticks with him. "It's horrible, I mean looking back on it, it's such a horrible thing to do, I think." It may have been because, he simply wasn't ready for this to happen.

"I was fine if I would've died in the line of action," Olson explains, "I was prepared for that, but what hurt the most was, I wasn't prepared for a really good friend of mine to die."

His friend was 20-year-old Lance Corporal Matthew Snyder. "It was a big blow to all of us and he was actually one of the most well-liked," says Olson.

Despite the dangers outside the base, Olson longed to get out on the road with the other guys. Most of the time, he was told that he was needed at the armory because hiis job there was so important. He did get to go out on a couple of missions, but he thinks they just were just trying to make him feel better. "I was in the last vehicle, in the back seat, with no responsibility," he laughs, "The robot mine detector had a bigger responsibility that I did."

Another frustration for Olson, the sandstorms. "The wind starts kicking up, it's intense and everything's orange and it's kind of eerie," he says. And it's a nightmare for the armory and it's weapons.

Olson says the dust would seep into the building, caking everything inside. "You go in there and you're making fresh footprints, like in the snow," he says.

He recalls one time, just after a sandstorm rolled through, a Staff Sergeant came to inspect the armory. "He started yelling at us," says Olson, "'This is the dirtiest armory!'"

Olson's superior tried to explain that the dust was due to the sandstorm, to which the inspector said, "'That's not good enough! I want this clean now! You're Above this." Olson says he knows the reaction was good intentioned and with purpose, but at the time he felt it was a bit extreme.

When he wasn't working, Olson found comfort in an old guitar left behind by an Army soldier who didn't want to pay for the shipping. "I don't what he was thinking," Olson laughs, "When I shipped it back, it was only $11 bucks."

"It was actually a huge joy to be able to play over there," says Olson, who calls the guitar his "war trophy." With it, he wrote a song he first titled, "The Al Asad Blues." He says, "It's a little bit of my experience, but mostly I'd like to call it just the Marines, in general." So, he changed the name to "The All Clear Sound."

Speaker boxes had been installed on the base so that when there was a mortar attack or a sandstorm, a warning would be announced, advising the troops to get to shelter. "After it's all done, they say 'all clear, all clear' and you knew everything was fine, and so I wrote a song about it all," explains Olson.

Corporal Olson came home from Iraq in September, 2007. Now 22, he recently re-enlisted and is applying for embassy duty. If approved, it would be a 3-year assignment. "I think it'd be a great honor to guard embassies and consulates all over the world," he says.

If it doesn't work out, Olson says that's fine too. He's committed to the Marines and says, "It's a career, not just a job, something you have to work for every day, and it's something you have to earn, too."

For him, there's nothing like being a Marine. "You can always fantasize about glory and honor and doing these big battles," he says, "But when it comes down to it, at the end of the day if I can say that I'm a Marine, I don't think there's any greater honor than that."

"War Stories", a weekly series, featuring first-hand accounts from Arizona service members, airs Sundays on 12 News at 10 p.m.

Ellie