Wednesday, March 07, 2012 - 11:45 AM
Colonel Kim Olson (retired)
President and CEO
Grace After Fire
Bent Tree Country Club
Kim Olson is a retired United States Air Force colonel, author, and the President and CEO of Grace After Fire. At Grace, Kim directs and oversees all efforts and activities related to developing and implementing an innovative peer-to peer counseling program that assists women Veterans returning to civilian life after service to their country.
Kim began her military flying career when she entered pilot training in the western town of Del Rio, Texas, as the first and only female student on the base of 5,000 USAF personnel. Her year of pilot training forged a woman of dedication, perseverance, independence, and compassion and, of course, produced an exceptional pilot. She flew KC-135s at March AFB, California, was promoted to Captain, and became an T-38 (supersonic jet trainer) instructor pilot, assistant flight commander, and executive officer at training bases in Arizona and Texas.
During a Pentagon internship, her work resulted in the first female pilot being assigned to fly the U-2 Reconnaissance aircraft. Thereafter, she returned to the KC-135 Stratotanker squadron at Dyess AFB in Abilene, Texas, where she served as standardization and evaluation instructor pilot while also a flight commander to 35 crew members.
Recognized for her leadership skills and flying talents, she was sought after by senior Air Force leaders who handpicked now Major Olson to be an initial cadre instructor pilot flying the Air Force’s newest jet trainer, the T-1A Jayhawk in Lubbock. When promoted to Lt. Colonel, Kim Olson became the first female to command a KC-135 air refueling squadron at Fairchild AFB, Washington. She led troops that spent 21,000 days deployed overseas supporting U.S. National policy, participated in a 60-day deployment to a combat zone in Saudi Arabia, and directed air refueling operations during the Kosovo campaign. That campaign was successful in guaranteeing the flying safety of the largest bombing campaign since WWII, teaming with over 80 multi-national fighter, bomber, reconnaissance, command and control, rescue and airlift representatives from 13 NATO countries---without a single loss of life.
She rose to Colonel, worked again at the Pentagon (surviving the 9/11 attack), and was hand-selected to be a part of the senior leadership circle pulled together by President George W. Bush and General Jay Garner, Army (ret) to rebuild Iraq at the successful conclusion of Operation Iraqi Freedom. She wrote about those experiences in Iraq and Back: Inside the War to Win the Peace, published in 2006 and again in paperback in 2011 by the Naval Institute Press. Her gripping, firsthand account expresses the unique point of view of a senior officer, pilot, wife, and mother and reveals in her personal stories the experiences of rebuilding Iraq. Book sales now support rebuilding the civilian lives of returning women Veterans through Grace After Fire.
In so many ways, Kim proved women were no longer a “social experiment,” but were in fact an integral part of America’s military and essential to its success. In fact, thanks to Kim and women like her, nearly all career fields are open to military women. After 25 years of service and having become a command pilot with 3,700 hours of flying time in six different aircraft, Kim retired and moved with her family to Texas. She’s earned numerous awards and honors, including being inducted into the Iowa Aviation Hall of Fame. Recently, she was instrumental in convincing Texas legislators to pass a resolution naming March as Texas Women Veterans Month from 2011 to 2020.
A resident of Mineral Wells, Texas, Kim and her husband have two children. She holds a bachelor’s degree in education from Ohio State University and three masters’ degrees: an MBA from Webster University in Missouri; an MA in National Security/Strategic Studies from Naval War College in Rhode Island; and an MA in National Security Strategy from National Defense University in District of Columbia.