Army wife tries to make community life better
BAUMHOLDER, Germany — There’s a Tina Olson at every Army base. Or at least you hope there is.
If the base is particularly fortunate, there are a number of them, and they know one another and work together. They are the Army wives who both support their families — single-handedly during deployments — while supporting the larger community.
This prototypical Army wife leads the battalion family readiness group, which Olson has. She is there for every unit returning from Iraq, which Olson was. She’s an officer in the Community Spouses Club, which Olson was. She teaches Army Family Team Building classes, which Olson does.
She also anchors collaborations with local Germans to send boxes of toiletries and personal items to 200 soldiers downrange, which Olson did. She takes the less than glamorous, but necessary, jobs such as managing the base thrift shop, which Olson does.
Sometimes, the Army wife receives recognition, such as Olson’s 2001 Commander’s Public Service Award for her work in family team building and family readiness groups while her husband taught Reserve Officers Training Corps classes at Syracuse University in New York.
“She has more [commanders] coins than I do, and that’s no lie,” says her husband, Sgt. Maj. Brian Olson of the 1st Armored Division’s 2nd Battalion, 6th Infantry Regiment.
But awards and coins are not what it’s about for her, her husband says. It’s about community, and about people coming together to make Army life better.
“She’s one of the most genuine … oh, hell, I might as well just say it. She’s the most genuine person I know. With Tina, there is no hidden agenda. She’s a genuinely sweet, caring person,” her husband says.
But you can’t accomplish anything alone, Tina Olson says. Tackling any project takes a lot of people. Volunteers have to contact the legal office, the base support commander, public affairs and postal operations.
“You need people with good heads; who have a good understanding of military structure and are not afraid to work hard,” she says. “Twenty heads are better than one.”
That’s true in everyday base life, as well.
A cluster of officers’ and senior enlisted’s wives had been living in the same Baumholder housing area for a year before the deployment, “and we said ‘Hello’ every day,” says Sabina Hall. “We were not close before the deployment, but we came together as sisters. We motivated each other. When people were down … Tina was there for advice, and to give an open ear.”
They became “the band of sisters” — Olson, Hall, Erin Kantor, Sharleen Holman, Renata Barfield and Doris Smith — during the 1st AD’s Iraq deployment, March 2003 through July 2004. They were there for one another, and there to greet all the units returning to Baumholder, headquarters of the 2nd Brigade. Once they showed up at a 4 a.m. ceremony in the middle of a thunderstorm.
“It sucked,” Olson says. “But we were there to tell both the soldiers and the spouses, ‘You did great. We’re proud of you.’
“They volunteered to serve. If the least I can do is show up, shake their hands and say, “ ‘Good job,’ I’m going to do it.”
Twenty-two years ago when Tina and Brian, then a private, married, family readiness groups and other support organizations were just coming on line, not the mainstays of Army life they are now, Brian Olson says. Tina says she can’t believe people fail to take advantage of the programs now offered, such as Army Family Team Building classes.
“We teach the mechanics of how military life works,” Olson says. They include management and leadership skills, time management, group dynamics and “even Maslow’s hierarchy of needs,” Olson says. The psychology theory says that humans need more than food and shelter to thrive.
“And it’s free. F-r-e-e!”
Olson doesn’t overly glorify Army life, which she says can be “brutal. People bring other posts with them … the good and the bad. You see the good, the bad and the worse.”
She knows what it’s like to move 17 times, to postings as varied as Fort Bragg, N.C., to Sandusky, Ohio, where her husband was a recruiter. She knows about working odd jobs, clipping coupons and pinching pennies while raising three children, two now in college. Her husband says she has been there for the 5:30 a.m. rides to work; for the time he got knocked out on a jump at Bragg; for the times he left on a moment’s notice for secret missions.
In the process, Tina Olson has had a lot of fun. Once at a reception in Berlin, she scooped ice cream for the late Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother. “I didn’t know what to do. Everyone else was curtseying in the aisles,” she said.
“So I decided to shake her hand … ‘Hi, Queen Mother, I’m Tina.’ She said, ‘Oh, hello! You’re an American!’”
She’s an American and an American Army wife.