Wounded by RPG, Marksmanship Unit Soldier relishes new career, set to make history.

FORT BENNING, Ga. -- Sgt. 1st Class Josh Olson, U.S.…

FORT BENNING, Ga. — Sgt. 1st Class Josh Olson, U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit, competes in an air rifle match. Olson will become the first combat-wounded active-duty service member to compete in the Paralympics when he steps to the firing line in London. Courtesy photo by USA Shooting

Nine years after losing his leg in a rocket-propelled grenade attack while on patrol in Iraq, Sgt. 1st Class Josh Olson has reinvented his Army career. Going from an Infantry squad leader to a wounded warrior, he is now a Paralympic shooter.

But in October of 2003, Olson’s future had been less certain. Recuperating at Walter Reed Army Medical Center with the loss of his right leg still fresh in his mind, Olson didn’t know if the last page in his Army story had just been written. He was confident he would complete rehabilitation in time to return to his duty station at Fort Campbell, Ky., to welcome home his battle buddies returning from Iraq. The last time they’d seen him, he was being pulled out of the wreckage of a humvee. Olson knew he would walk again with the use of prosthesis. What he didn’t expect was to discover a marksmanship talent that would lead him to make history at the Paralympic Games.

Nine years since the day that changed his life, Olson isn’t just still writing his Army story, he is creating new chapters as a pioneer and inspiration to a generation of wounded veterans and Soldiers.

When Olson, a member of the U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit, participates in the 2012 Paralympic Games opening ceremonies Aug. 29 in London, he will officially become the first combat-injured active-duty service member to ever take part in the event.

Through competitions and World Cups, Olson did well enough to secure a spot for the U.S. in rifle competition. In turn, the U.S. Selection Committee picked Olson to compete in two rifle event at the Games.

“When I got the call it was such a relief,” said Olson, who will compete in Mixed 50m Prone Rifle and Mixed 10m Air Rifle. “I felt like 500 pounds was taken off my back. I sat down and knew I would never have to carry that weight again. Now I could focus on the games as well as getting the new guys here to the unit.”

HISTORIC EXPANSION
The ‘new guys’ Olson refers to are injured Soldiers who are deemed able to continue serving on active duty. This past spring the Army approved the historic expansion of the USAMU with the addition of 24 new Soldiers to make up the newly-created Paralympic section and a marksmanship instructor group. It goes into effect Oct. 1. While his current focus is training for the Paralympic Games, he is also looking ahead to recruiting and mentoring other injured Soldiers who are facing similar life-altering circumstances and career changes as he did nine years ago.

“Now, instead of getting injured and being told ‘thanks for your service’ and you have to get out, the Army is affording Soldiers the opportunity to stay on active duty the same way I was,” Olson said. “Now all of that knowledge isn’t going to be lost and we can incorporate them into our shooting program and instructor group and keep making an impact on our Army.”

In many ways, Olson is a pioneer, something that isn’t lost on him. The poster child for humility, Olson recognizes he is setting examples all over the place for Soldiers who have been severely injured in combat. He said he looks forward to the day years from now when he can look back on this chapter in his life and see its results.

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