News: I Corps names 1st Sgt. of the Year
Story by Sgt. James Bunn
JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. – Perhaps no leader is as influential to the training and mentoring of enlisted soldiers as their first sergeant.
U.S. Army 1st Sgt. Eric Olsen, a Muskegon, Mich., native, with Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, distinguished himself from his peers by earning the 1st Sgt. John Ordway award, an annual award recognizing one outstanding first sergeant out of more than 100 in I Corps.
As the senior noncommissioned officer at the company level, the first sergeant is responsible for overseeing the training and welfare of his soldiers as well as maintaining good order and discipline of his unit.
When Olsen joined the Army as an infantryman 17 years ago, he did not have big plans for his career. He was not even sure he wanted to make it past the rank of sergeant first class, but with the support of family and friends, he decided to push his career as far as he could.
Olsen said that being able to rely on his wife, Desiree Olsen, has been the key to his success.
“I’ve seen really good leaders not do as well as they could because their home systems are broken, and their focus is at home more than it is at work during the duty day,” Olsen said.
Olsen, an Airborne Ranger and former first sergeant of a Ranger training company, deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan. He returned from his most recent deployment less than a year ago.
While his family provides him with the support he needs, it is his soldiers who shape him as a leader.
“I’ll always say that I thank my soldiers because they constantly give me challenges that I have to overcome to better myself,” said Olsen. “There is always something new.”
The first sergeant is often the most experienced soldier in a company, making them a valuable resource to a company commander.
“He’s been around for a long time, but is still not afraid to get out and do what’s being asked of his soldiers,” said Capt. Jesse Boulton, a San Francisco native and Olsen’s commander. “He’s not afraid to work alongside the soldiers and even the senior folks.”
Olsen strives to use his experience as a leader to help his soldiers become effective leaders themselves.
Olsen said he tends to rely on experienced, stronger leaders for big projects he needs completed, but he also likes to give soldiers with less experience tasks that will challenge them so they can grow.
Olsen said he has always taken a “serving approach” to leadership. He prefers to set the example rather than force soldiers to perform his way. As the first sergeant for a headquarters company, Olsen is responsible for more than 250 soldiers, many of whom outrank him, and taking a serving approach to leadership helps him succeed in what could easily be a daunting task.
For the soldiers who work for him, Olsen is a leader worth emulating.
“He has a true concern for his soldiers,” said Sgt. 1st Class Adan Reyes, a Piedmont, Ore., native and platoon sergeant in Olsen’s company. “He takes care of everybody the same. He is always the last one out the door, and he’s always the first to come in. He leads in a good, positive way.”
No matter how long he stays in the military, Olsen said he never wants to lose sight of what is important to him as a noncommissioned officer: training and developing his soldiers into leaders.