Chaplain assistant wins Charles R. Meier Award

  • Published
  • By Airman Donald Knechtel
  • 28th Bomb Wing Public Affairs
It started out as an ordinary day as she made her way toward the ministry planning meeting, gearing up and getting her mind in the game, and she had no idea of what would come next.

There was the boom of a voice calling the room to attention as base leadership entered the room. Staff Sgt. Shannon Olson, 28th Bomb Wing chaplain assistant, was dumbfounded to discover the meeting was a ploy to surprise her with the Charles R. Meier Award for the 2015 Chaplain Assistant of the Year for the Air Force.

The award honors retired Chief Master Sgt. Charles R. Meier, the second chaplain assistant career field manager of the Air Force Chaplain Corps. It is given to those who clearly demonstrate sustained and superior performance in their duties.

"Against all the chaplain assistants in the career field, she has shown that she is the best," said Chap. (Capt.) Karlton Edison, 28th BW chaplain. "She [has] the attention to detail unlike that of any other chaplain assistant that I've worked with, she does her job extremely well."

Olson exceeded the expectations in her job performance and leadership by strategically managing the annual ministry plan for the chapel, overseeing the chapel appropriated funds, six contracts, and all Chapel resiliency events. In addition, she was involved in the wing as the Group 5/6 Treasurer, and as a Sunday school teacher both downtown and on-base.

Before becoming the chaplain assistant she is today, Olson began her career on a different path.

"Back in 2006, I was reading a newspaper and saw the tally of how many people we lost in the war," Olson said. "It sparked a conversation in our household about the war, about service and patriotism. It ended up being this passionate argument between me and family about how important it is to serve.

It was then that Olson considered joining the armed forces.

"I wanted to be a part of something bigger than myself," Olson said. "At the Military Entrance Processing Station they told me what they currently needed was security forces and ammo, so I sent a prayer. I flipped a coin and said 'ok, if it's heads I'll take ammo, if it's tails I'll wait for something else to come up;' I had full faith and trust that whatever happened is good."

She enlisted in the 5th Maintenance Group as a munitions systems apprentice and enjoyed it because it was an exciting adventure. She said it's something she wouldn't have pursued on her own.

Eventually, Olson was presented with the opportunity to be a victim advocate, she was eager to help people. This is where it started for her - when she realized it was time for a change.

As a victim advocate, Olson discovered this was what she wanted to do full time, not only for victims of sexual assault but for everybody from every walk of life. After six years as an ammo troop, she began retraining into the chaplain assistant career field.

"I saw it and thought 'this is a job!? You mean what I've been yearning for in my heart with the desire from victim advocacy is a full time job!? Sign me up!'" she said excitedly.

Olson arrived at Ellsworth in January 2013, and her first year as a chaplain assistant shocked her. She felt she still didn't know the Air Force and made an effort to re-adjust. She added taking a step back helped show the big picture of how it all comes together.

"She knows the world of maintenance, she knows the ammo world, and she knows Airmen and their various jobs beyond just being a chaplain's assistant," said Chap. (Maj.) David Knight, 28th BW chaplain. "She has that broad perspective. It's evident that she wants to do the right thing even when no one is looking, which to me that's what integrity is."

Olson stated when someone comes in she doesn't focus on their background. She added that whether you're a colonel, an Airman 1st Class, a Buddhist, a Mormon, she doesn't discriminate, she only cares for the individual, for who they are and for their spirit.

"People come to the chapel at the highs and lows of life, and we want you to know us and be comfortable with us in all seasons of your life," Olson said.

Olson emphasized in working with Airmen, you realize it's not about you; it's about how you interact with others, and how everyone interacts together to form the base.

"This position has created a deep desire for me to lead now, seeing that this is my great passion," Olson stated. "I want to be a reliable, trustworthy woman of integrity to lead other chaplain assistants and chapel teams in the Air Force and make the chapel corps a stronger one so that Airmen across the Air Force are provided for."

"I foresee that she, whether she falls on the officer side of the house or whether she stays enlisted, is going to be a senior leader someday in our Air Force," Edison said.