LATHAM, N.Y. – Lars Olson, a 23-year-old who is going directly from “street to seat’ to become a New York Army National Guard UH-60 helicopter pilot, was recognized during an Oct. 16 ceremony at the Army Aviation Support Facility.
It’s unusual for a recruit to join the Army National Guard and go directly to pilot training school, said Sgt. 1st Class Barbara Morgan, Olson’s recruiter. Normally, a Guard Soldier has to serve for a while and then apply for acceptance to flight school, she said.
Under the “street-to-seat” program, the Chatham resident and small business owner will go directly to Warrant Officer Candidate School after graduating basic training, followed by Initial Entry Rotary Wing Training.
He will then be assigned to 3rd Battalion, 142nd Aviation, headquartered in Latham, flying their UH-60 Black Hawk aircraft.
Olson officially joined the Army at the Albany Military Entrance Processing Station Oct. 14. But his family could not be there because of COVID-19 pandemic restrictions, so the battalion conducted a second ceremony for Olson so his family could be present.
He is the first Soldier to join a New York Army National Guard aviation unit through this program, Morgan said.
“It was something I saw active duty could do,” said Olson. “I wanted to stay close to home, be part of the community, and serve the community.”
That’s when he contacted Morgan, a recruiter at New York National Guard headquarters in Latham. The process was long and tedious because of delays caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, but Olson was determined to get it done.
“He was scheduled to get a flight physical at Fort Indiantown Gap, Pennsylvania, but they weren’t able to do the eye exam,” said Morgan. “This was in March and everything was shut down in New York, so he scheduled it on his own and the closest place was in West Virginia.”
Making the trek to West Virginia with his parents, then on to Pennsylvania, Olson was able to get everything completed within a couple of months.
“The process was brand new to the New York National Guard,” said Olson. “We kind of just rolled with the punches and figured out how to get it done.”
It was a process that began when Olson said he initially planned on going to law school but decided that wasn’t the path for him.
“I was sitting at home and said, you know what, that’s really not what I want to do,” said Olson. “I wanted to do something more, and this is what I came up with.”
The idea came from his father, John, who served in the Army in Vietnam from 1967 to 1968, earning a Purple Heart and Bronze Star with valor.
“He always spoke really highly of the helicopter pilots that he knew in Vietnam,” said Olson.
His father said he thought it was a great opportunity for Lars.
“I think the public really underrates the opportunity the National Guard delivers to young people today, and I’m very excited for him,” John Olson said.
He said he spent 15 months in Vietnam, an experience he wouldn’t trade for anything.
Flying into combat on many occasions, John called helicopters “the cavalry of today’s military.”
As the only staff photographer permanently assigned to the Stars and Stripes newspaper, John said he relied on Army helicopters to take him into battles such as Khe Sahn and Hue, two of the biggest engagements of the war.
Over the course of the next 10 weeks, Lars will be leaving behind his business providing group and private tennis lessons and will be the Army’s newest Warrant Officer Candidate after what he described as a lot of effort by his recruiter.
“I have to give Sgt. Morgan a lot of credit,” said Lars. “She stuck with it and was able to do a lot of the legwork.”
Held at Fort Rucker, Alabama, Initial Entry Rotary Wing Training is 32 weeks long. Lars will receive a helicopter instrument rating after graduating.
Lars said this is all part of many things he is looking forward to accomplishing.
“Learning to fly, moving away from here for a little bit, experiencing something new and seeing other parts of the country,” said Lars. “And then I can’t wait to come back here and be part of the community again.”
“I got my wish,” Olson said after reciting the enlistment oath in front of one of 3/142’s Black Hawk helicopters.