Some of Lt. Col. Eric T. Olson's most gratifying moments in the Missouri Highway Patrol came during his 14 years assigned to cruise the state's highways.
Maybe it was something as simple as changing a tire. To the person stranded alongside the highway, a flat tire could seem like a calamity.
He's helped people through the deaths of their loved ones.
"When you can reach out and make a bad situation for somebody less stressful," Olson said, "that's the most rewarding part of the job."
Married with two children, he's been in the Highway Patrol about 28 years, having received his first appointment in July 1990, and now is the assistant superintendent of the Highway Patrol. Olson has direct oversight over the Professional Standards Division, Public Information & Education Division, and Office of Community Engagement and Outreach.
He's traveled a long way from the college student who simply wanted to make a difference.
"I know, back when I was in college, I'd wanted a career that would offer me challenges — work that was diverse," Olson said.
The Highway Patrol was on his radar. Through the lens of a young man's eyes, he saw that troopers could meet, work with and help people, he said.
"I always admired how they conducted themselves," Olson said. "It's an honor to work for an agency that has high expectations."
As his career progressed, Olson accepted assignments in several troops and rose through the ranks. He became a corporal in 1995, sergeant in 1997, lieutenant in 2004 and captain in 2014. Each step meant a new assignment and new home. His promotion to major in 2017 drew him to Jefferson City, where he served as commander of the Criminal Investigation Bureau in the department's headquarters.
His promotion to colonel came a year ago, on March 9, 2017.
Olson said expectations for people who join the Highway Patrol are high.
"I'm definitely giving my best effort to reinforce that image. It's certainly an honor to work for an agency that has high expectations," he said. "It's a daily effort to clear that bar."
One aspect of the organization that surprised him was the teamwork involved in law enforcement.
"When you're young and looking from the outside in, I did not have that perspective," Olson said. "That's rewarding — that part of the job is working together to reach a common goal."
The views from the top levels of the organization allow him to see the Highway Patrol's needs and help meet them.
"At this level of the agency, it is possible to address changes that enable our agency to move into the future," Olson said. "It's humbling to serve the people in this state."