Roadside blast in Iraq ends creative soldier's life
By Rod Ohira
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Rod Ohira
Army Spc. Toby R. Olsen, a Mililani High graduate, expressed his love for life in art and poetic philosophy, and his love for country in death.
Olsen, 28, was one of four soldiers killed Saturday in Karma, Iraq, when a roadside bomb detonated near their Humvee, the Department of Defense announced yesterday.
The soldiers were assigned to the 3rd Battalion, 509th Infantry (Airborne), 4th Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division out of Fort Richardson, Alaska.
Olsen was the son of James and Lis Olsen. James Olsen is an Army colonel and eye doctor stationed in Germany. The fallen soldier's grandparents, John and Hiroko Olsen, live in Wahiawa, and he is a nephew of former Hawai'i and current KGO-TV (San Francisco) sportscaster Larry Beil.
Another uncle, Robert Olsen of Mililani, said his nephew was born in Maryland and moved to Hawai'i around 1991 when John Olsen was assigned to Tripler Army Medical Center. "Hawai'i was his home," Robert Olsen said.
Olsen earned an art degree from Savannah College of Art and Design in Georgia, Beil said.
Beil recalled yesterday that he was watching CNN about midnight when the phone rang.
"When you have a family member in Iraq and the phone rings, it's the worst call you can get," Beil said.
"(Toby) was a great kid, 28 years old with his whole life ahead of him," Beil added. "He was artistic, so gifted in drawing. The guy could draw like you wouldn't believe. He wanted to fulfill his military duty and become an art teacher."
While visiting his parents in Germany during Christmas leave and before he returned to Iraq, Toby Olsen wrote down some of his thoughts:
"Happiness in the broadest scope of the word encompasses the feelings which personally give us as individuals fulfillment and joy to that which just takes the pain away for a little while," Olsen wrote.
"I think you can't be truly happy until you have been truly unhappy. I am an artist, I strive to create and enjoy almost nothing more than to sit having all the time and freedom in the world and create. I hit a point in life where though my art wasn't fulfilling anymore, it felt empty.
"I suddenly had too much freedom, and too much time so I took the most opposite direction I legally could with my life, I joined the Army.
"Now my time is run by the minute, there is almost no room for creativity. I now conform to ideas instead of imagine, and destroy instead of create. The contrast thus far has led to a strong resurgence of my former drives and desire to create as well as a newfound level of respect for the freedoms I once had.
"Hope I live long enough to enjoy them again."
Robert Olsen of Mililani remembers his nephew as a "lover of life" and admired his creativity.
"We were all proud of him, that he was doing the right thing, but shocked that he won't be able to fulfill his dreams in life," Robert Olsen said.
Another uncle, Dr. John Olsen, an interventional radiologist practicing at Brooks Army Medical Center in San Antonio, recently e-mailed family about a Web site created for one of Toby's best friends, Dustin Donica, who was killed in Iraq on Dec. 28 before his nephew's return from the war zone.
"Toby was a great kid, and from what I can gather, he hung out with a bunch of great guys in the 3/509th Parachute Infantry Regiment," John Olsen told relatives.
Toby Olsen, who was a resident of Manchester, N.H., is also survived by brothers Michael, who works at Leeward Community College, and sister Tanya, who is in Germany.
Reach Rod Ohira at firstname.lastname@example.org.