Lt. Eric Olsen
From commercial fisherman to Alaska State Trooper
Lieutenant Eric Olsen’s connection with Alaska began as a commercial fisherman in Kodiak.
His grandfather was one of the first commercial fisherman in the area, eventually teaching his trade to Olsen’s father, who in turn passed on his knowledge to him.
Olsen’s father, however, wanted him to follow a different path in life. Instead of continuing his family’s legacy of commercial fishing his father wanted him to go to college. Reluctantly, Olsen agreed and traveled to Washington where he attended Western Washington University for a few years.
Throughout his time there he discovered his love for aviation and committed himself to becoming a pilot.
His father had flown the Grumman Goose, a major piece of aviation history in Alaska, and Olsen thought “Why not be a pilot and a fisherman like my father”.
A brief history and significance of the Grumman G-21 Goose
The Grumman Goose positioned itself as a highly versatile aircraft for the U.S. Navy during World War II, eventually evolving into a reliable recreational and commercial transportation aircraft, particularly in locations with numerous archipelagos and islands. In Alaska, the aircraft enabled efficient transportation throughout the states rugged landscape.
A virtual “flying boat” the Grumman Goose proved to be more reliable and versatile than simply attaching amphibious floats to a standard aircraft. It was this aircraft that connected Lt. Olsen to his father’s flying legacy and served as a symbol of what he desired to achieve in aviation.
Following his time in Washington, Olsen moved to Florida for flight school. The Exxon Valdez oil spill cut his flight training short, however and he returned home to help his community clean up the area. The oil spill was an important factor in his decision to move away from fishing and focus all his energy on flight school.
The disaster shut down the fishing season and rendered commercial fishing in the area unsustainable as a career. He attended UAA and was one of the first graduates of the professional pilot program, obtaining his private, instrument, commercial, multi-engine, and flight instructor certifications.
Stepping stones to the Alaska State Troopers
UAA provided him a strong foundation to apply for an opening for a Fish and Wildlife Aid for the Alaska department of public safety, now the Alaska Wildlife Troopers. He transitioned into a fish and wildlife enforcement officer position, a program that is no longer around but was a key stepping stone to the Alaska State trooper program.
When the program was dissolved, Olsen, along with nearly 30 others lost their jobs. This event led Olsen to travel to Georgia and become a National Marine Fisheries federal officer after training for six months. He was stationed in Homer where he continued to pursue his dream of flying for the Alaska State Troopers.
In 1996 Olsen achieved his goal. He was a trooper. With that position would come many challenges, achievements and experiences that would influence his professional and personal development.
During his time stationed throughout the state he flew single and multi-engine aircraft and assisted in numerous search and rescue missions.
Three years in Kotzebue specifically, he came face to face with the harsh reality of flying in the arctic and the challenges that accompany responding to serious felony crimes.
Hardship and resilience
While stationed in Kodiak, Olsen faced his most dangerous encounter with a suspect; an encounter that would force him to look inward in order to overcome adversity. While off duty, picking up his daughters from school, a suspect aware that the department was actively searching for him, struck Olsen’s vehicle from behind while he was stopped for a school bus. The impact totaled Olsen’s truck, tore five discs in his neck and back, and ended his trooper career for seven years.
The physical toll was substantial. Learning to walk again unassisted took Olsen a full seven years. After several surgeries and nearly a decade of struggle, he was finally able to work again. He became a coordinator for the Kodiak Area Native Association. His calling to be a trooper never faded and he left Kodiak to work as an investigator for the office of elder fraud and then an investigator for the alcohol beverage control board.
After years of building his strength, Olsen was finally able to apply to be a trooper again. The department doubted his ability to perform and even sent out a captain to watch him do his physical fitness test. Failure was unacceptable to Olsen and he became the first trooper in history to be promoted to sergeant as a recruit.
Olsen’s connection to Alaska goes beyond his employment. An Alaska native, he carries with him the values his family taught him at an early age. The importance of taking care of others before yourself pushed him towards a career with the troopers where he could use his skill set to help others.
“Seeing and working with other Alaska Native ethnicities and cultures that I think it's helped transition me to who I am today.”
Throughout his extensive and varied careers, one thing has remained constant; a belief in helping others and staying true to the Alaskan values his family taught him.