Reservist

ISS1 2015

Reservist Magazine is the award-winning official publication of the United States Coast Guard Reserve. Quarterly issues include news and feature articles about the men and women who comprise America's premier national maritime safety and security

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Freedom Fighter, Firefghter, Friend: A Reservist's Call to Serve His Country and His Community Story and Photos by PA1 George Degener In the midst of an old growth forest about 50 miles northeast of Seattle in Snohomish County, the town of Oso, Washington is a small, close-knit, blue- collar community. Less than 300 people live in Oso and none of them could have imagined the impact that the events of the morning of March 22, 2014 would have on their lives; or how it would bring the community together through tragedy. A nearby hillside collapsed, creating a wall of mud and debris that engulfed a cluster of homes known as Steelhead Haven, dammed a portion of the Stillaguamish River and blocked Washington State Route 530. Initial reports were that more than 150 men, women and children were missing. "Whatever I did, whatever the professional firefighters and EMS did pales in comparison to the family members of those that were lost did," said Petty Officer 1st Class Ryan Olson, a maritime enforcement specialist assigned to Coast Guard Port Security Unit 313 (PSU 313), an Oso resident and volunteer Oso firefighter. "This is part of Oso. They were out there side by side with professional rescue workers and they would not stop, would not stop, and would not stop. Even after they would find their own family members, they were right back out there the next day helping dig for everyone else." As a qualified expeditionary warfare specialist, Olson used the skills and proficiencies he attained and honed through military training and deployments to the Middle East as part of PSU 313 to traverse the dangerous and unstable ground. Olson led reconnaissance patrols, setting waypoints that would eventually become the working grid map for the entire western division of the slide area. "Almost singlehandedly, Petty Officer Olson initiated and developed valuable and crucial networks with local Department of Defense personnel giving the PSU the ability to train in simulated operational environments doing what is expected of PSU shore security operators," said Senior Chief Petty Officer Ryan Hooper, a member of PSU 313's operations department. "His dedication, aggressive drive and foresight have enhanced the operational capability of the unit with consistent increases in individual capabilities of personnel and integration of operations department divisions in field training exercises." The slide left a field of debris that covered about a square mile, and in some places was more than 30 feet deep. Heavy rainfall combined with floodwaters caused by the backed-up river created an unstable terrain of mud and debris. Massive trees that had once stood tall littered the hillside like broken matchsticks. As recovery operations in the slide area progressed, the official number of missing persons dropped to 43. "My abilities and training in concepts like land navigation and working in a small team in combat conditions absolutely applied in this situation," said Olson. "This is the exact same thing as a deployment. It's like Groundhog Day. You get into the battle rhythm and it's just like life being forward deployed. The military training came into play time and time and time again." Olson assisted in creating landing zones for the search and rescue and military helicopter crews within the slide area and was eventually attached to the Snohomish County Technical Rescue Team as manpower augmentation, acting as a representative of Fire District 25— the Oso Fire Department. These early days he spent digging with shovels, and sometimes bare hands, in the mud. Safety concerns limited the abilities of response personnel to enter the slide area. "The slide created a blender Shipmates in Focus Me1 Ryan Olson Me1 Ryan Olson at the aftermath of a mud slide in Snohomish County, Washington. 36 RESERVIST � Issue 1 • 2015

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