Saturday, January 20, 2007

Army Specialist Toby R. Olsen

Remember Our Heroes

Army Specialist Toby R. Olsen, 28, of Manchester, N.H.

Spc. Olsen was assigned to the 3rd Battalion, 509th Infantry (Airborne), 4th Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, Fort Richardson, Alaska; died Jan. 20 in Karma, Iraq, of wounds sustained when an improvised explosive device detonated near his Humvee.

Army Spc. Toby Olsen nurtured dream of being an artist
By Mary Adamski

A former Mililani resident died Saturday in Iraq, one of four soldiers killed when an improvised explosive device detonated near their Army Humvee in Karma.

Army Spc. Toby Olsen, 28, a 1997 graduate of Mililani High School, is the 128th person with Hawaii ties to be killed in Iraq since the war began in March 2003. He was based in Fort Richardson, Alaska, and deployed to Iraq in October with the 3rd Battalion, 509 Infantry (Airborne) Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division.

Olsen's death came 13 days after he returned to the war zone from a two-week holiday visit with his family in Germany, said his uncle, Robert Olsen of Mililani. Toby Olsen's father, Army Col. James "Mike" Olsen, is an ophthalmologist at the U.S. Army Hospital in Heidelberg. It was the first time Toby, his father, mother Lis and sister Tanya were together since he joined the Army in late 2005, said Robert Olsen.

In a message to his family before he returned to war from his Christmas leave, Toby Olsen wrote that he planned to pursue his dream of being an artist, saying, "I now conform to ideas instead of imagine, and destroy instead of create."

He had "a newfound level of respect for the freedoms I once had," he wrote. "Hope I live long enough to enjoy them again."

Robert Olsen said: "Toby was here for junior high and high school, then he went off to school at the Savannah College of Art (and Design) in Georgia. He definitely intended to return to Hawaii to teach art.

"He was reserved, but when he knew you, a friendly, witty guy. He was more of an artist, poet, philosopher," said Robert Olsen. "We couldn't understand him taking the path (the Army). He was trying to make ends meet; it was something to give him a further education."

Robert Olsen said his nephew's best friend, a member of the same Alaska-based unit, was killed while Toby was on holiday leave, the 3,000th American victim of the Iraq war. He was Spc. Dustin Donica, 22, of Spring, Texas.

Toby Olsen is the grandson of John C. and Hiroko Olsen of Wahiawa. His survivors include uncles Robert of Hawaii and John of Texas, and aunt Sharla Beil of San Francisco.

The Army announcement of the Jan. 20 deaths listed Olsen as a resident of Manchester, N.H. Also killed in the explosion were Sgt. Sean P. Fennerty, 25, of Corvallis, Ore.; Sgt. Phillip D. McNeill, 22, of Sunrise, Fla.; and Spc. Jeffrey D. Bisson, 22, of Vista, Calif.

Soldier was driven by creative expression

Army Spc. Toby Olsen wrote about his desire to return to a creative life as an artist. In a message to relatives when he returned to the Iraq battle zone, he wrote:

"Happiness, in the broadest scope of the word, encompasses the feelings which personally give us as individuals fulfillment and joy to that which just takes the pain away for a little while. I believe in life, you need contrast too. I think you can't be truly happy until you have been truly unhappy.

"I am an artist, I strive to create and enjoy almost nothing more than to sit having all the time and freedom in the world and create. I hit a point in life where though my art wasn't fulfilling anymore, it felt empty. I suddenly had too much freedom and too much time, so took the most opposite direction I legally could with my life: I joined the Army.

"Now my time is run by the minute; there is almost no room for creativity. I now conform to ideas instead of imagine, and destroy instead of create. The contrast thus far has led to a strong resurgence of my former drives and desire to create, as well as a newfound level of respect for the freedoms I once had.

"Hope I live long enough to enjoy them again."

Army Specialist Toby R. Olsen was killed in action on 1/20/07.

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