The photo on Col. Mark Olin’s wall tells a piece of the Army story – but more importantly, it tells his Army story.
In “The Jaws of Death,” troops disembark the U.S.S. Samuel Chase at Omaha Beach June 6, 1944. It’s a picture that not only reminds Olin of an important moment in history, but of the quality time he spent with his father, a decorated Vietnam fighter pilot, watching old war documentaries on PBS.
“The thing that really fascinated me as a teenager, who was thinking about military service, was the invasion of Normandy, and what on earth would cause young American Soldiers from every corner of our nation, and every walk of life, to cross the ocean and have the courage to take the first step off those boats,” he said.
Olin, a California native who was already thinking of following in his father’s footsteps – his hero – saw in the military an opportunity to take his average life and make it something greater than himself.
“I was just kind of the kid in the middle, and I knew I could be something more than that,” Olin said. “I would see this (picture) and think, ‘If I had the opportunity and the grit to do something like this, to show people that I had the same character that they had back then, then that’s who I want to be.’ So I joined the Army.”
Under his leadership with the Army Recruiting Command, thousands of young men and women have done the same ever since Olin took command of the 2nd Recruiting Brigade July 21, 2017. He will relinquish that command to Col. Jason Kerr, Friday at 10 a.m. at the Community Activity Center.
When he came into the job, Olin had two priorities: accomplishing the mission and taking care of Soldiers. Despite a high recruiting mission and several hurricanes over the past two years that tragically impacted his Soldiers in places like Wilmington, North Carolina; Puerto Rico, Miami and Tampa, he considers them jobs well done, as the brigade has embraced its Soldiers and civilians, no matter the challenge.
With a total mission for fiscal year 2019 of about 22,000 recruits, the brigade has thus far enlisted about 18,000 young men and women into the Army and Reserve – the equivalent of about three brigade combat teams – and is on track to even exceed the mission. Throughout Olin’s tenure, the brigade has enlisted 38,823 Army and 5,852 Reserve.
“We’re doing exceptionally well this year,” he said. “We’ve built this cohesive team that is performing at exactly the same level it did last year, which was the highest year we’ve had in a decade. We are performing at the peak of our capacity, pretty darn close to what our troop potential really is.”
Emulating brigade commanders that have impressed him over the years, Olin has taken on the role of teacher and head coach for his Soldiers and civilians, sending out motivational yet educational messages to his workforce to help them accomplish the mission.
“Col. Olin is very in tune with Soldiers and balancing that with requirements to the nation is hard to do. He has done a fantastic job,” Lt. Col. Randall Newman, executive officer for the brigade, said.
One of those lessons is making sure recruiters don’t just tell the Army story – which doesn’t always resonate with potential Soldiers today – but their story.
“You have to tell your Army story,” Olin said. “Your Army story has to be personal, meaningful and relevant to the person you’re giving it to, because really the goal of a recruiter, the end goal, is to create a human connection with the applicant. That is something that is powerful.
“An applicant doesn’t sign their contract for college money or travel or whatever – that might be why they came in – but they sign the contract because of the professionalism of the noncommissioned officer sitting in front of them, because they can relate to that person through their Army story. They can see their life unfolding in a positive way, because of their connection with that recruiter. That is the power of what our NCOs do.”
For Olin, his Army story has taken him around the world, just as he hoped as a teenager. Upon his commissioning from the U.S. Military Academy in 1994, he joined the infantry, where for 18 years he jumped out of planes and rode in tanks in places like Europe, Asia and the Middle East, until he decided to make an impact on the Army in a different way, through recruiting.
“The Army has been this vehicle for me that’s allowed me to become who I wanted to be all along, both as an individual, and as a husband and father,” Olin said.
With no regrets from his time in uniform, Olin is looking to the next phase of his life – retirement. While he’s not sure of what that will exactly entail, quality time with his family and in his garden – likening recruiting to growing strawberries will live on as one of his most popular motivational messages – is on the agenda.
“It’s really hard to say goodbye. It’s really hard to let go. It’s the only job I’ve ever done, except for being a lifeguard in high school, but it’s the right thing to do for my family,” Olin said.