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Alumni Aviators

By Savannah Hoag, as appearing in Alumline

On any given day, Colorado State University alumni connect through their shared Ram pride at game-watch parties, tailgates, volunteer projects, networking events, and reunions. And with almost 210,000 alumni living across the U.S. and around the world, chances are pretty good that you’ll run into a fellow Ram eventually, no matter where you hang your hat.

So, a chance meeting between Major Erin Hadlock and 1st Lieutenant Aaron Olsen on the dusty terrain of Afghanistan when they were both deployed as Army Aviation pilots wasn’t exactly unusual, but it certainly exemplifies alumni military service.

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Major Erin Hadlock attended CSU from 2010-2012 as a graduate student in the English department. During this time, the ROTC professor of military science asked her to speak with a group of young, hopeful undergraduate students about her 14-year active-duty military experience and being an Army pilot. Unbeknownst to her, one of those young ROTC cadets would join her a few years later in Afghanistan.

After graduating from CSU in 2013 with a bachelor’s degree in political science, 1st Lieutenant Aaron Olsen is considered a jack-of-all-trades. Since hearing Hadlock’s presentation, Olsen has gone on to join her as an Army pilot in the Aviation branch of the Army. Qualifying to join the Army Aviation branch is not an easy feat, requiring aviators to exemplify extraordinary physical and mental capabilities. Most aviators learn to fly helicopters, but Hadlock and Olsen continued on in their training to be able to fly Guardrail Common Sensor aircrafts (RC-12) which only 1% of Army pilots are trained to fly.

Hadlock and Olsen first met in Fort Hood, Texas, four years after Hadlock had spoken with Olsen’s class about Army Aviation, where they would soon learn of their common connection through CSU. “I was looking out that evening over an audience of faces,” says Hadlock about her speech for the ROTC cadets. “I could not pick him (Olsen) out of a crowd that night.”

Since then, they’ve been stationed together in Afghanistan providing intel to ground forces while flying through some of the most dangerous airspace in the world. Hadlock describes flying through the snow-capped Hindu mountains as a beautiful, but dangerous experience when you’re sharing the skies with commercial aircraft, Air Force fighters, and helicopters.

They may both fly the same planes, but Hadlock and Olsen differ in the reasons why they came to CSU. Hadlock remembers choosing CSU as the school for her graduate degree in 2006 when reading an edition of Forbes magazine that listed Fort Collins as one of the top 50 places to live in the United States. Olsen, a Colorado native, grew up in Loveland and was privy to being near CSU for his entire life. He decided on CSU after being unable to attend the United States Military Academy. Olsen credits the Honors program at CSU being the driving force behind his decision to join the ROTC program on campus and later on the Army.

Hadlock appreciates the diverse community CSU has to offer. “Everything about the military is uniform,” says Hadlock.  She remembers walking from class to class and seeing people standing in the plaza unabashedly yelling their opinions for anyone to hear. She also describes CSU as being one of the top-ranked universities in the country for student veterans. Olsen, although having grown up 30 minutes away from Fort Collins, still loves the bustling college town and remembers the Oval being his favorite spot on campus.

These two alumni continue to serve their country overseas in Bagram, Afghanistan. Both show their Ram pride by boasting about the University that brought them together in the unlikeliest of places.