'Show them what you can do'

Friday , August 06, 2010 - 11:15 AM

Bill Orndorff - 309th Maintenance Wing

Though he lost most of his eyesight -- and almost his life -- 24 years ago, Dave Olsen is now happily working in the 524th Electronics Maintenance Squadron (Electronics and Instruments), cleaning and repairing aircraft parts.

Olsen's abilities have earned him the Hill Air Force Base Outstanding Employee with Disabilities Award for 2009. He will be recognized at the Oct. 22 Persons with Disabilities Awards Luncheon at Club Hill, starting at 11:30 a.m., and receive a plaque from Maj. Gen. Andrew Busch, Ogden Air Logistics Center commander.

"Dave is a success story -- he's overcome obstacles and taken advantage of the opportunities before him," said Gary Shaw, 524th director. "He takes pride in his work and is highly reliable. He's never late for work."

Recently, Olsen was able to show his abilities to a group of his peers -- 40 students with varying degrees of blindness, their teachers and escorts, from the Utah Schools for the Deaf and Blind in Ogden. The students made the stop in Building 100 as part of a career day visit to Hill AFB and other northern Utah locations.

Olsen, who has six-percent vision in one eye and none in the other, works on 10-KVA generators from F-16s, by taking them apart for cleaning, then re-assembling them. He also solders parts in a workstation that has a special magnifying option to enlarge the components and make them easier for him to see.

Enthusiastic in his work and his approach to people around him, Olsen will tell you how he lost his eyesight -- he was shot in the face by a cousin with a 12-gauge shotgun on Sept. 29, 1985, while they were hunting together. Left for dead, he defied the odds and lived, spending 98 days in an Ogden hospital.

"Before the incident, I was a sheet metal mechanic," Olsen said. "Once I tried to come back to work, no one had the confidence that I could do the job. I was given janitorial jobs -- cleaning toilets, sweeping floors and moving furniture."

Discouraged, he attended rehabilitation classes to help him better cope with his lack of eyesight and regain some of his lost ability. He credits Shaw with helping him get the job he has now.

"I talked with Gary Shaw and told him I was willing to do anything, anywhere," Olsen said. "After we talked about what I could do, he put me to work cleaning parts on the production line."

Olsen was later taught to re-assemble the parts, and after further training, learned to solder. His work station is set up with a computer monitor attachment that magnifies items several hundred times -- a pinpoint-sized component on a circuit board is shown as big as a quarter on the screen.

"When I do the soldering, I watch the screen and have no problem seeing what I am doing," he said.

Buoyed by the work he is able to do now, Olsen suggested to Shaw that he allow the career day tour to come through his shop as a motivational tool for the students.

During the tour, Olsen showed off the computer magnifier to students with partial vision, and had others feel their way through the components on the F-16 generator.

"In life, you have to speak up for yourself," he said to the students after telling them his story. "If you don't like the situation you're in, change it. Tell them and show them what you can do -- no one else will stand up for you. I'm as blind as you are, but I've never let that stop me."

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