Rachel Petruska Olson had a life a lot of people would envy. In the late 1990s, she and her husband, along with their two young sons, decided to trade the drudgery of their native Minnesota winters for the tropics by moving to the Caribbean island of St. Martin and starting their own marketing and advertising company.
The business did well, but the fourth year into their venture, something devastating happened back at home — the terrorist attacks of 9-11, which Petruska Olson says “threw my life into perspective.”
After that life-altering day, she decided for sure that she wanted something more meaningful. “I felt I needed to give more and do more. I knew I needed to bring my job skills into a career that served a greater purpose.”
It was the beginning of a two-year transition in which both Petruska Olson and her husband decided to move back to the States, enlist, and become officers. She decided to reach out online to an Army National Guard recruiter in Minnesota, where they still maintained a house. At age 40, she started basic combat training (the maximum age at the time was 42; today it is 35), followed by Officer Candidate School.
As part of their training, Soldiers choose a military occupational specialty (MOS). For Petruska Olson, it was military intelligence. In fact, she was the first woman to serve on the battalion staff in the 1st Combined Arms Battalion, 194th Armor Regiment in the Minnesota National Guard.
There are many branches to choose from in the U.S. military, but for First Lieutenant (1LT) Petruska Olson, it was “that aspect of being able to help locally in a disaster situation, being able to help your neighbors and your friends and family” that solidified her choice to serve in the National Guard, which has a dual mission of serving the community and the Nation. It was also a good choice for her because she was able to drill and train close to home and family, plus take advantage of the Guard’s “amazing” education benefits.
Thanks to those benefits, 1LT Petruska Olson soon earned a bachelor’s degree in public health, which then led to a civilian job with the American Red Cross as a disaster specialist.
When the Red Cross offered her a job in Texas just last spring, she was able to request an interstate transfer within the Guard. She’s now attached to the Texas National Guard’s Recruiting and Retention office, where she is putting her military intelligence MOS to good use, but in a unique way — by analyzing the effectiveness of the Guard’s outreach throughout the State, which has numerous and sometimes vastly different economic, social, and political demographics.
So instead of enticing tourists to St. Martin’s hotels and resorts, 1LT Petruska Olson now helps to fill the ranks of the Texas Army National Guard with “fabulous Soldiers.” She says she’s falling back on her marketing skills, but now it’s just “marketing for a greater cause.”
Above all, she says the Guard’s best selling points come back to its opportunities for growth.
“I went in thinking, ‘What am I going to give to the military, what am I going to give to the community, what am I going to give to the country?’ And what I found at the end is what it actually gave me. It gave me courage, it gave me strength, it gave me education, and it gave me opportunities I would have never had if I’d never joined.”
As for future opportunities, 1LT Petruska Olson is currently looking into masters’ programs in environmental health focusing on infectious and disease control in her new home state. “There are so many opportunities, so many amazing paths you can take, that I definitely see myself staying within the Guard.”
If you’d like to “give more, do more, and have a more purposeful life and job” like 1LT Petruska Olson, explore all the “amazing paths you can take” by visiting the National Guard jobs board and contacting a recruiter today.