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The Army Ranger

Ed Olesh

Q's BY JAKE STUMP
PHOTOGRAPHED BY RAYMOND THOMPSON JR.

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After dodging machine-gun fire and roadside bombs in Iraq and Afghanistan, a newly married Ed Olesh knew it was time to change his line of work. But what was out there for an Army Ranger who saw more than 400 combat missions and four deployments in roles varying from grenade launcher to machine gunner to demolitions expert? Olesh, BS ’16, Wildlife and Fisheries Resources, is nearing the finish line at WVU for his master’s degree in the same field. The transition to college hasn’t been an easy one for the Ohiopyle, Pa., native. As president of the Veterans of WVU student club, he’s lending a hand to other student-veterans on campus who might need an E-5 sergeant in their college life.

Growing up, did you always intend to join the military? 

By the time I was in middle school, I knew I wanted to join the Army and serve my country, especially after 9/11. I developed this idea that somebody has to do it. My parents emancipated me  at 17, and I joined up. I knew I wanted to  do special ops and ended up in the 2nd Ranger Battalion of the Army’s 75th  Ranger Regiment. 

Describe what a combat mission might entail.

It means you’re going to capture or fight a known target. These are high-valued targets – people making bombs, suicide bombs, training fighters, distributing media, recruiting. And it’s time-sensitive. You only have a few hours to capture the target, so all of the planning and raiding must take place within that amount of time. You’re on the bird [helicopter] within an hour of getting the heads-up. 

What were some of the hurdles for you in adjusting to college life after being in a warzone?

I call it going from ‘warrior culture’ to ‘campus culture.’ Those two cannot be more apart from another, in theory. But in reality, you’re always constantly learning and meeting new and different people. That doesn’t change. It’s just that the perspective changes. You go through separation anxiety and survivor’s guilt. Those feelings never get worked out by the time you’re in college. Then you’re in school after being in an organized, disciplined environment. You have kids whipping out their phones in school and talking on them. 

How are you assisting other student-vets in their journeys at WVU?

I’m trying to get the veterans community more established on campus. I’m a member of the President’s Action Group for Veterans on campus that’s reviewing our current outreach to veterans. 

I also founded the Davis College Veteran Professional Organization, and we helped host the first Veterans Welcome Back Weekend this fall. Many student veterans may not be aware of the programs and resources available to them, like the vets’ office or the Carruth Center. 

We need that stronger sense of community and I think the new veterans’ resource center in the Mountainlair will help. It will have tutoring, a conference room, coffee bar, noise-canceling headphones with computers and a lounge area.

Most of all, the advice I’d give to vets is that you may be angry at first, but find other vets on campus to help you through the first couple of years. We’ve already gone through the problems you’re going to face. Link up with a vet and have them help you out. Also, you need to open up your mind. When I came here, there was an initial feeling that I was going to fight everything. Then I was like, ‘Oh, that’s so stupid.’ I started listening to other people and their viewpoints. By my senior year, I went from Republican to Libertarian to left-leaning to ‘Why do I need to fall into a category?’ I’m just going to think for myself. That’s what college helped me to do.

Read our series of WVU veteran profiles. Find Veterans of WVU on Facebook.