Pulled pork for support

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Stacia Zachary
  • Team Eglin Public Affairs
(Editor's note: Sadly,  Tech. Sgt. Eric Olafsen passed away Jan. 19, after  this article was written. All proceeds from the fundraisers covered in this article will still go to his family.)

The scent of sizzling barbecue hung in the air surrounding the petroleum, oil and lubricant hub here, Jan. 14. The POL community pulled resources and held a fundraiser for a fellow Airman who is fighting a battle against leukemia.

Tech. Sgt. Eric Olafsen, a fuels specialist from the 96th Logistics Readiness Squadron, was diagnosed with leukemia in December. He has been undergoing chemotherapy and other cancer-specific treatment at Sacred Heart Hospital in Pensacola, Fla. The sergeant's wife travels nearly 100 miles roundtrip to be with him causing out-of-pocket expenses to skyrocket and drain their budget.

"The strain it's putting on the family is huge," said Senior Master Sgt. Jamie Harrington, 96th LRS fuels manager. "It's rough seeing someone in that position and we just wanted to do the right thing and help take care of them. So, we got the fundraiser together to help offset those costs."

The fundraiser featured pulled pork sandwiches with baked beans and potato salad for $6. More than 400 orders from all over base came in with requests for additional plates with every pick-up.

"This has been a huge success," said Reta Engel, 96th LRS. "The base really came together for Sergeant Olafsen. What's really surprising are the people who are handing me large bills for only a couple plates and telling me to keep the change. People just want to help."

Also on hand was the Northwest Florida Blood Services mobile unit. Airmen and civilians were able to donate blood for Sergeant Olafsen or in his name. The sergeant will need blood as he continues receiving treatment to fight the cancer and drives such as these can be a help to both him and others in need.

"It's humbling to see this," said Daniel Brown, a close friend and former roommate of Sergeant Olafsen. "It helps me believe there are people who do good things in the world just because it's the right thing to do."

In addition to this fundraiser, a local band is donating the proceeds from a gig at a nearby restaurant. The band, Clinch 46, is comprised of three Team Eglin members and another local citizen in the area.

"Being in the Air Force, we saw an opportunity to help out one of our own and bring awareness to this cause," said Tech. Sgt. Kevin Shackleford, Air Force Operational Test and Evaluation Center, Det. 2.

Working with fuels comes with it an inherent risk to one's health.

"We don't know what caused the leukemia," said Sergeant Harrington. "This does bring awareness to how important it is to wear your PPE (personal protective equipment) and ensure adequate ventilation when handling petroleum products. Dealing with fuels, this is a risk POL Airmen face."

When the sergeant was diagnosed with leukemia, his Air Force family immediately jumped into the role of caretaker.

"The POL family just dropped everything and came together to support (Sergeant Olafsen)," said Kristin Lynch, best friend of Sergeant Olafsen's wife, Mitzi. "From the moment he found out, it was a priority for his Air Force family to help out in any way possible."

Having the disease affect someone of such a good reputation has brought a new emphasis on how important it is to help out a wingman.

"He's the kind of guy who would give anyone the shirt off his back," said Master Sgt. Matthew Renner, 96th LRS. "It's (fitting) that we're all pulling together for a person that always did that for anyone."

"One of our brothers needed our help," adds Master Sgt. Eric Brunner, 96th LRS Superintendent of Fuels. "It's a real thing being a wingman. We're here for him until he kicks this thing."