For college students, the undergraduate years are a time to gain experience and prepare for the future.
For University of Wisconsin Oshkosh alumnus and distinguished attorney Nate Olson ’01, of Oshkosh, gaining experience took on a whole new meaning as he braved not only the University campus, but also military combat.
Olson grew up in Fond du Lac and after graduating from high school in 1997, he decided to be the first in his family to go to college and to pay for it on his own. A semester in, Olson realized the financial burden was too much.
That is, until he was introduced to the benefits of joining the National Guard. When Olson realized that he could have the rest of his college tuition covered, he took the following semester off and joined the Wisconsin Army National Guard.
“I was going to school for criminal justice, so I thought military police, perfect!” Olson said.
Olson graduated from basic training and advanced individual training as a Distinguished Honor Graduate during the spring semester and returned to UW Oshkosh in the fall with the peace of mind that the cost of his schooling was paid for.
When he returned to Oshkosh, Olson was approached by a state counter-drug program and was hired as an intelligence analyst. He worked primarily for the Drug Enforcement Administration in Green Bay, where he was a liaison between the military and law enforcement.
Olson’s duties with the Guard required him to serve actively for one weekend a month and two weeks a year.
“I was advancing in my rank and so my two weeks were never bad,” Olson said. “My first assignment was going to the Dominican Republic and I thought, ‘This is good!’” Olson said.
Olson was honored as the Soldier of the Year in 2001.
“And then Sept. 11 came and that changed everything,” he said. After the terrorist attacks shook the U.S., Olson’s duties took him to multiple training sessions around the state.
“Professors were obviously very understanding of my situation,” Olson said. “It was like high school; my dad would go to my professors and get my homework. So, they were giving it to him, and he was bringing it to me at the hotels I was staying in throughout the state.”
Olson graduated with a degree in criminal justice in fall 2001 and was mobilized to Nicaragua and then to Bosnia, where he was an investigator for the military. Olson’s time in Hungary in 2002 included taking an old Russian base and turning it into a site where Iraqi soldiers were trained for the impending invasion.
But with his required time in the National Guard almost up, Olson was looking forward to the plans he had laid out for his future.
“I had accepted a job offer with the DEA at the federal level right before I went to Bosnia and I thought, ‘I’m going to get this job with the DEA, I’m going to go home and get married, we’re going to go and that’s going to be life.’”
But Olson became “stop-lossed” and his active duty service was involuntarily extended. In Sept., Olson began hearing word that there was going to be an invasion at the beginning of the year, and by October he was given pre-mobilization orders.
“So, my wife and I moved up our wedding that was supposed to be in November 2003. We got married on a Saturday, and I left on a Sunday.”
Olson left for Iraq and didn’t come back for 16 months. The ground war began in March and his unit was stationed in Baghdad, where they trained Iraqi police.
“Although we were a guard unit, we all had more experience than an active duty unit… For this mission, they had it right by pulling from the Guard and Reserves because of 120, about 80 of us were civilian cops and we had civilian training,” Olson said.
Early on in the war, Olson was out doing patrols and was met head-on with an Improvised Explosive Device or IED and suffered minor nerve damage due to shrapnel getting lodged in his arm, hand and jaw. Olson began experiencing some issues with his hand and was concerned that it would jeopardize his job in the DEA, causing him to start rethinking his career path.
“I had taken the LSAT in college, and thankfully I had, because the score was still good,” Olson said. “I applied to law school from Baghdad and got accepted, then had to wait out the 16 months.”
Olson returned from Baghdad with a Purple Heart and a new career on the horizon. Olson and his wife packed up a U-Haul and, five days later, moved to Michigan, found an apartment and Olson started Thomas M. Cooley Law School, where he graduated cum laude.
After the birth of their first child, Olson and his wife began planning out where they wanted to live and settle down.
“We thought Oshkosh is kind of home, that’s where we met,” Olson said.
The family packed up and settled in Oshkosh where Olson’s wife got a teaching job at Lourdes Academy, and Olson started his own law firm, Olson Legal Group LLC.
“Everything is great now. My wife and I are great, we have four healthy kids, we have a really beautiful house, I have an awesome law practice and I have great clients,” Olson said. “I’m doing very well and a lot of it started at UWO in saying, ‘What do I want to do?’ and making those right choices early on.”
Olson also credits his successful life to his time in the military, where he learned how to be disciplined, accountable, respectful and organized.
“Being a solo practitioner, you have to be very disciplined in your work ethic,” Olson said. “If I didn’t come into work today , no one would yell at me… In the military there’s a lot about accountability, and you have to account for yourself, and that’s what I have to do here.”
Olson’s successful law firm has brought him recognition on the prestigious Super Lawyers Rising Stars list, a nomination that only 2.5 percent of attorneys in each state receive. Attorneys must meet certain requirements, including being 40-years-old or younger or in practice for 10 years or less and being nominated by their peers. These attorneys have the potential to make the Super Lawyers list, which consists of attorneys who have been practicing longer.
“To me, it means more that you’re doing something right to get recognized by your peers,” Olson said.
With an educational career that brought him success in both his military duties and law practice, Olson believes that UWO gave him the tools he needed to become the veteran, father and attorney that he is today.