Both finishing their junior years at Slippery Rock University, Brookville’s Logan Thrush and Hali Olson are off to their next assignment with a busy summer ahead.
The former multi-sport standouts at Brookville are members of Slippery Rock’s Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) program. It’ll be a busy summer as the two head toward a post-graduate career in the military. For Thrush, that was pretty much the plan from the start. With Olson, not so much.
“I was always eager about it, because my dad was an officer in the Marines,” Thrush said. “It was something I always thought about, but once I started it, there’s still the competitive nature of it that I enjoy.”
Thrush thought he was headed to West Virginia University at the end of his senior year at Brookville – as in three days before graduating – before he changed his mind. He was already signed up to go to WVU, but things changed.
“I called up the recruiter at Slippery Rock and told him I was interested,” Thrush said. “At the time, I was going to WVU, but he told me to come out and from that time on, it was Slippery Rock.”
Thrush has thrived. He recently received the Master Sg. Kenneth C. Gillin ROTC Scholarship from the Special Forces Association. He received $2,000 after being chosen from an applicant pool of Army ROTC junior cadets throughout the state. He’s on a three-year ROTC scholarship at SRU and earned a tuition waiver his freshman year.
Thrush is a Homeland Security/Mid-East Studies major at SRU. As part of the ROTC’s Cultural Understanding and Leadership program, he spent last summer in Morocco learning about another culture and country. The experience certainly was an impact and helped him focus on future plans.
“I want to go active duty infantry, so I guess it is more toward the action type of branch,” Thrush said. “It’s the one I fit the most into and can see myself thriving in it. That’s part of the thing I like, the traveling and seeing different cultures. It’s cool to see that side of things coming from a small town like Brookville.”
Thrush also went through Air Assault School last summer at Fort Drum, N.Y. He won the gold award of the German Armed Forces Proficiency Badge, reaching standards in shooting, strength tests, running and swimming.
Thrush just departed for Fort Benning, Ga., for Airborne School, a three-month course that will be followed by Advanced Camp at Fort Knox, Ky., and an officer shadowing program in Texas. He’ll likely get back to SRU for his senior year after classes begin.
Last fall, Thrush and Olson found themselves on the same team, representing Slippery Rock’s ROTC program at the Ranger Challenge, a two-day competition in Fort Dix, N.J. The team, made up a men and women, finished fourth out of 40 schools.
“That was so fun,” said Olson, one of two females on the team. “It’s definitely cool, a family-building thing. We’re all a family and in those type of competitions, you’re as good as your worst girl, basically. But we both kicked butt.”
Olson’s path to the ROTC program was different. In the spring semester of her sophomore year, she decided to take an elective course called “The American Military Experience.” It interested her enough to enroll in the National Guard last March and she went through Basic Training last summer at Fort Knox.
Less than a year later, she’s headed to Lithuania within the same program that took Thrush to Morocco last summer.
“I’m excited,” Olson said. “It’s our opportunity to see different cultures. Most haven’t been outside the country and obviously Lithuania is different than here. It’s a lot of tourist type of things. They show you the history of the country.”
Olson has thrived as well, last fall she won a 4.0 GPA award, highest female physical training score award and most improved cadet. Looking back, she regrets not starting sooner.
“If you would’ve asked me two years ago if I would ever join the military, I would’ve laughed because it was something I didn’t think I’d ever like,” Olson said. “When I started that class, and it’s just a general class you can take, I talked to the National Guard recruiter and he told me what the ROTC program entails. Starting as an officer, you’d make more money, which isn’t my first priority, but it’s nice. There is just more opportunity for leadership. I’m not one who likes to be told what to do.
“Logan brought me up to the ROTC office and they were all for it, but it was more or less a decision I made on my own.”
After returning to Fort Knox from Lithuania in late June, Olson will stay there for her Advanced Camp assignment.
“I’m impressed with where she is going and her eagerness to learn,” Thrush said. “She’s a tremendous athlete and some of the stuff we do isn’t easy and she makes it look easy. For Hali to do what she’s done so far, it’s a huge accomplishment.”
Olson pointed out that she has a pretty strong teammate to look up to as well.
“You work together, but compete to come out on top,” Olson said. “Logan has been competing against everybody and he’s done what he’s had to do to get into airborne. It’s very rare to get chosen as a Cadet to do air assault and airborne. It’s usually one or the other.”
Olson, a Safety Management major, plans to either go into artillery or combat engineering in her upcoming military career. She also completed her third season on the track and field team. At the recent Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference Championships, she finished 12th in the heptathlon, a seven-event competition that Olson wished she would’ve started sooner in her college career.
She was able to deal with the rigors of the ROTC program and a varsity sport at the same time.
“There were some tough days where I had to do an 8-mile run with ROTC then go to track practice,” Olson said. “My feet are kind of messed up right now, but I’ll deal with it. With the heptathlon, I like the variety. I was doing just the 400 hurdles before that and now I get to do three different things at practice.”
Both are pretty clear and certain in the direction they’re going, although specific assignments and location of their first step of a military career won’t be known during and at the end of their senior year at SRU.
“I wasn’t sure what I was going to do and now this year, there’s no doubt in my mind. It’s a good feeling,” Olson said.
“I’m thoroughly excited about it and the just idea of leading soldiers in U.S. Army and empowering other people to take the initiative toward a greater purpose in their own life is an exciting idea too,” Thrush summed up.