FORT DRUM, N.Y. - The Army has always recognized Soldiers with outstanding merit and selflessness. Whether it is volunteering to make a difference in his community, or making the ultimate sacrifice on the battlefield, Soldiers who go above and beyond the call of duty are honored for their actions.
Sgt. 1st Class Richard J. Olson Jr., platoon sergeant for 2nd Platoon, Company B, 2nd Battalion, 87th Infantry Regiment, was awarded the Silver Star May 7 for distinguishing himself in combat.
Two other 2-87 Infantry Soldiers also were recognized during the ceremony. Cpl. Derrick V. Blackburn was awarded a Bronze Star, while Spc. Jesse R. Sprint received an Army Commendation Medal with Valor device.
"Since (Sept. 11,) 2001, our Soldiers have been called upon to serve selflessly, as have their Families and all have sacrificed," said Maj. Gen. James L. Terry, 10th Mountain Division (LI) and Fort Drum commander. "The weight of responsibility, indeed the successes that we have achieved and will achieve in the future, rests on the shoulders of those who serve."
The Silver Star is the third-highest award a service member can receive for serving in combat.
"I respect the higher command for coming out and recognizing me," Olson said. "It's a great honor to be recognized."
During 3rd Brigade Combat Team's most recent deployment to Afghanistan, Olsen served in Logar Province as leader of Counter Improvised Explosive Device Team 15. CIED Team 15 cleared routes of IEDs and provided a Quick Reaction Force for the surrounding area.
On Aug. 10, Olson and his Soldiers received a report that the Pul-E-Alam governor's compound was under attack by insurgents attempting to assassinate the governor of Logar Province. The team immediately went to assist the governor and other U.S. Soldiers already at the compound.
Upon arriving at the governor's compound, they found Soldiers from the Police Mentorship Team had already secured the area and ensured the safety of the governor, but they were still taking fire. Olson immediately identified the direction of the enemy fire and told his Soldiers to return fire.
After a vehicle-borne IED detonated directly outside the compound, Olson requested permission to assault the area. He moved with his Soldiers to assault the building from which they originally received fire as well as the location of the VBIED.
Olson led a group of U.S. Soldiers, as well as French and Afghan National Army soldiers to clear the first and second floors of the building. Olson then moved forward by himself and threw a grenade up to the third and fourth floors to clear the areas.
As they moved to the fifth floor, they encountered enemy insurgents and received fire. Coalition Soldiers and ANA troops worked together to fight the insurgents.
The group then left the building to allow the Apache helicopters that had been providing close-air support to fire upon the building. While the Apaches fired on the building, Olson duct taped two Claymore mines to two 15-foot poles.
After the Apaches stopped firing, Olson directed all of the Soldiers to move back into the building and continue to clear the area of insurgents.
"He (was) very cool, calm and collected," said Sgt. Christine Hein, a human resources noncommissioned officer with Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 3rd BCT, of Olson's leadership during the firefight. "Never once (did) I doubt his leadership abilities."
With the insurgents still on the fifth floor, Olson put his Claymore-poles to good use. With the help of an airman, he located one of the insurgents and detonated the Claymore next to him.
Olson then led an assault on the fifth floor and cleared the rest of the building, including the roof.
"It was surreal to see a real hero," said Hein of Olson's leadership and present-mindedness the day of the firefight.
"He is very strategic and tactical," she added. "You (always) know he has something up his sleeve."
Olson is not new to deployments. During his 11 years in the Army, he has deployed once to Iraq and a total of three times to Afghanistan.
"I feel like I am programmed for combat," he said. "I perform better in combat."
Olson was able to lead a successful assault and secure the building with a small number of Soldiers. His military bearing and strategy helped clear the building of insurgents in a timely and effective manner.
"I'm extremely proud," he said. "This is the only firefight I have ever been in where, afterwards, I would not want to change anything that I did."
Now that Olson and his fellow Soldiers are safely at home, his focus has not changed. Olson's readiness to deploy and defend his country and fellow Soldiers continues. According to Olson, his main focus now is training his Soldiers to be affective in combat and ready to deploy at any time.
"I am reminded that our freedom, as Americans, is not free. Rather, it is paid for through the sacrifices of Soldiers and Families like we have here today," said Terry, regarding the Soldiers receiving awards. "It is guaranteed through the valorous deeds and actions of men and women like Sergeant 1st Class Olson, Corporal Blackburn and Specialist Sprint."