By Courtney Dentch
Queens Village mother Anne Howe takes some comfort that her son, Airman Jesse Olson, has been stationed on a naval ship in the Persian Gulf since August, even though his homecoming has been postponed indefinitely.
“I'm glad he's on a ship and not on land,” said Howe of her 25-year-old son. “He's a little safer there. My heart goes out to the families of the troops who are right there in the battles.”
Olson, of 92-59 215th Place in Queens Village, is serving his second year of a five-year military tour aboard the USS Nassau, an amphibious assault ship posted off Kuwait, Howe said.
The ship provides support to the air fleet engaged in Operation Iraqi Freedom, the U.S. military action aimed at removing Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq. As an airman, it is Olson's job to ensure fuel is ready to fill the tanks of airplanes and helicopters, she said.
Howe keeps tabs on her son through the constant television coverage and regular e-mails, she said, although the e-mail messages often give little exact information.
“He's able to e-mail me pretty regularly,” she said. “He's not always allowed to tell us where he is, but we're definitely in touch. He's usually just vague about details.”
Olson does keep her up to date on any action the crew sees, she said. Last week, for example, the USS Nassau intercepted an Iraqi boat trying to intercept mines. The crew was going to take the Iraqis into custody, but the men were transported on another U.S. military ship, she said.
Olson, Howe's second of three children, was scheduled to come home March 18 in time for his birthday last Thursday, but when President George W. Bush imposed a March 19 deadline for Hussein and his sons to leave their country, the ship's tour was extended through April 30. Once the war began the crew was informed their return had been postponed indefinitely, she said.
“He definitely had mixed feelings about it,” she said of Olson. “He felt proud that he was going to be taking a more active role. He's really proud of what he's doing there.”
Olson joined the Navy about two years ago to find a direction for his life, Howe said. Olson dropped out of high school in his junior year to get his general equivalency degree and had been adrift for a while, she said.
“He just wasn't sure what he wanted to do,” she said. “He thought that joining the service would be the best way to get focused. He wanted to see the world and utilize the benefits of the education he could get with the Navy.”
Now Olson, who wants to work behind the scenes in the music industry, is planning to start school this summer at Great Lakes College in Illinois to study computers and communications, Howe said. While the war, which Bush has said may last longer than many expected, may still be underway, Olson may be able to fly home to start classes, she said.
In the meantime, when the crew of the USS Nassau is not engaged in military business, there are many ways for the seamen to fill the hours, such as a beard-growing contest and a “Jeopardy!” trivia competition, which Olson won, Howe said.
“They need to do things like that,” she said. “They do what they can to keep the morale up.”
And while it may not be the same as seeing the ball drop in Times Square, Olson and some of his shipmates spent New Year's Eve at the Hard Rock Cafe in Kuwait City, Howe said.
“He was able to say he was there for the holiday,” she said.
Although Howe is hoping Olson will not have to spend too many more holidays oversees, the Navy has been a positive influence on him, she said.
“I have moments when I get kind of upset, but I'm really proud of him,” Howe said. “He's grown so much personality-wise. I'm glad he's gotten what he wants out of the Navy.”
Reach reporter Courtney Dentch by e-mail at TimesLedger@aol.com, or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 138.