Veteran Story: Mark Olson

a soldier in military uniform
Mark Olson during a deployment in Iraq.

Photo courtesy Mark Olson

Mark M. Olson


St. Louis, Missouri


Backcountry Reservation Specialist, Canyonlands National Park

Military Service

Veteran, US Army Infantryman 2005-2011


  • Mosul, Iraq 2006-2008
  • Al Amarah, Iraq 2009-2010


  • Combat Infantryman Badge
  • Iraq Campaign Medal (3 stars)
  • 3 Army Commendation Medals
  • National Defense Service Medal
  • Non-Commissioned Officer Professional Development Ribbon
  • Global War on Terrorism Ribbon
  • Overseas Service Ribbon
  • Army Service Ribbon
a ranger stands in front of a waterfall in a forest
Mark Olson during his time as a backcountry ranger at Rocky Mountain National Park.

Photo courtesy Mark Olson

The wilderness we are able to preserve in this country is a great treasure for all of us to enjoy and remember where we came from, in order to know where we must go.

Mark Olson

Mark's Story

How did you make the transition from the military to the National Park Service?
"Post-military I attended a one-year program at Alderleaf Wilderness College for Wilderness Education and Ecology. I then completed a bachelor's degree in Natural Resource Recreation Management and Minor in Natural Resources at the University of Missouri. My first job with the NPS was at Rocky Mountain National Park as a backcountry ranger on the wilderness crew."

How does your military experience impact who you are in your NPS career today?
"My military experience impacts me as an employee because those things that I fought for and witnessed others lose their lives for have deeper importance to me now. I think our national monuments and parks are our purest expression of freedom and the American way of life. They show the raw material we clawed our way out of to create one of the greatest nations to ever exist on this planet. The wilderness we are able to preserve in this country is a great treasure for all of us to enjoy and remember where we came from, in order to know where we must go."

How did your military service and skills contribute to your role today with the NPS?
"The military taught me the importance of public service and how to accomplish things in a complex work environment. It stressed teamwork, tact, morale, and hard, fulfilling work. My time as an infantryman taught me many skills of self-reliance, working in remote environments, radio and GPS familiarization, route finding and map/terrain recognition, how to operate in remote, stressful, and dangerous environments, all the while working individually or in a team."

How did you find your park?
"I found my park on a backpacking trip in Canyonlands National Park. I walked directly up to a ancestral Puebloan structure and observed a gourd plant in bloom with gourds all over. I realized that this gourd was planted by a human almost one thousand years ago and had continued to re-seed itself till now. My imagination has never idled, and my passion for this place never soured since."

What makes your park special?
"Canyonlands National Park preserves 'a rugged wild area with remoteness and self reliance as the principal elements of the visitor experience.' That is straight out of our 1978 General Management Plan and we believe it. I love this place, between climbing, mountain biking, hiking, backpacking, rafting class V rapids, canoeing, four-wheel driving, and motorcycling, we offer almost everything. Many parks have wilderness, views, wildlife, and recreation but here we have all of that coupled with thousands of years of culture that you can still see—right there—like the occupants just left."

Last updated: November 8, 2017