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Vet pleased by Iraq success

Spokane-area native in town to honor Gonzaga student

Josh Olson, who lost a leg to a rocket-propelled grenade while serving with the Army in Iraq, talks with ROTC cadet Shannon Rutledge at the Gonzaga University ROTC center on Thursday.  Olson, originally from the Spokane area, is a member of the Army’s marksmanship team. He is stationed at Fort Benning, Ga. He came back to Spokane to present an outstanding senior cadet award to Rutledge. (Jesse Tinsley)
Josh Olson, who lost a leg to a rocket-propelled grenade while serving with the Army in Iraq, talks with ROTC cadet Shannon Rutledge at the Gonzaga University ROTC center on Thursday. Olson, originally from the Spokane area, is a member of the Army’s marksmanship team. He is stationed at Fort Benning, Ga. He came back to Spokane to present an outstanding senior cadet award to Rutledge. (Jesse Tinsley)

Sgt. 1st Class Josh Olson has a lot invested in the future of Iraq, and he would like to believe his sacrifice was not in vain.

What he saw in October, when he returned to the place where a rocket-propelled grenade took his leg, gave him reason to believe “it was worth it.”

Olson, 30, the son of Jock and Shirley Olson, of Newman Lake, was severely wounded when his company of the 101st Airborne was attacked near Tel Afar in October 2003.

The injury knocked him out of the war but not the Army, and Olson remained in the service as a member of the U.S. Marksmanship Unit at Fort Benning, Ga. He was in Spokane this week to attend a Friends of the National Rifle Association banquet, where he will present an award to this year’s outstanding Gonzaga University ROTC cadet.

Six years after leaving Iraq, Olson returned as part of a program called Operation Proper Exit, in which wounded soldiers are “allowed to go back and leave under their own power,” he said.

It is hoped that revisiting the site of their trauma will help injured soldiers heal their psychological wounds, often called invisible wounds.

Olson has since visited Iraq two more times as an Operation Proper Exit mentor. He said he was amazed by the changes he saw there.

“It was totally different,” Olson said. Victory Base has once again become Baghdad International Airport and Iraqi security forces have largely replaced U.S. troops. “It made me feel good to see there was progress.”

A large section of Tel Afar had been leveled and its residents removed by U.S. forces to prevent it becoming another Fallujah, a former hotbed of Iraqi insurgence.

“It’s still a big ordeal for the Iraqi people,” Olson said, adding that a surge in violence already has begun in advance of upcoming Iraq elections. “People over there are dying to vote where people over here don’t bother.”

He believes Iraqis are taking back control of their country.

“Nothing will ever replace a body part or a loved one that you lost, but seeing how we made a difference and seeing Iraq’s chance at a better life makes us feel pretty good,” Olson said.

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