THICKER THAN BLOOD
By MCSA Ryan Mayes
Not every encounter in a person’s life is mere chance or coincidence. Talk to those advanced in age and experience and most will agree that there are certain events in life that can’t be explained. A mysterious intervention from harm, that car accident they shouldn’t have survived, the illness they overcame or the chance meeting of a distant relative, better yet, meeting the one and only brother you never knew you had. For Boatswain’s Mate 3rd Class John Olsen, the last of these, is exactly what happened.
Olsen, 23, was adopted by his family at infancy and raised in Chicago. He joined the Navy in 2008 as a fire controlman, but, as fate would have it, he ended up on the USS Nimitz (CVN 68) as an undesignated seaman to later strike as a boatswain’s mate (BM). It wasn’t until about a year ago that Olsen’s biological family (brother and two sisters) began to contact him through social media, all of whom he never knew existed.
“About a year ago my family started Facebooking me,” said Olsen. “They were saying, ‘I’m your brother,’ and ‘I’m your sister.’”
Olsen called his brother, Brandon Lavader, on the phone for the first time on what turned out to be the day before Lavader headed to Recruit Training Command, Great Lakes, Ill,
“I didn’t even know he existed until the day before he went to boot camp,” said Olsen. “I called him and we talked for a little bit, but I didn’t know what rate he was going to be or anything like that. I had only talked to them about three or four times through Facebook.”
It wasn’t until Brandon graduated boot camp that a special turn-of-events began to unfold.
“I found out he was stationed in San Diego on the USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70) and that he was also a BM.” said Olsen. “Before Nimitz made the trip down to San Diego, I asked my brother if he would be in town and he told me he thought he would.”
Not only was Vinson in San Diego upon Nimitz’ arrival on June 14, but the two ships were to be docked on adjacent piers. The Vinson supplied the pier-side line handlers for the mooring of Nimitz while Olsen was responsible for a team of line handlers on board. Working together the Sailors from Vinson and Nimitz moored the ship in the early afternoon.
“When we got to San Diego I was working as a line POIC (Petty Officer In-Charge),” said Olsen. “As it turns out, so was my brother. He was a line POIC on the other end of the same line I was working on. This was pure coincidence. I knew he would be in town but I didn’t know he would be on the other end of the line. That was pretty cool.”
When the work of mooring the ship was done, Olsen was able to meet his brother face-to face for the first time on the pier. What may have been awkward at first, gave way to a more relaxed greeting as the brothers were able to get to know each other that short evening in San Diego.
“I went to his house and I got to meet his wife and his dog,” said Olsen. “We went out to dinner where we were able to catch up. As it turns out, my grandfather and great grandfather on my mom’s side and my brother’s uncle and his grandfather and
great grandfather on his father’s side, were all BMs.” said Olsen. “I had no idea. I joined the family tradition without even knowing it.”
“It was weird,” said Olsen. “We had some similarities, different little mannerisms. We both play the same game systems, things like that. He even has a couple of spots in his hair, same as me.”
A chance meeting that day united two brothers who never knew each other, two brothers who share more than just blood.
“It’s strange, even if I had never known about him; we still would probably have seen each other without even knowing it. I could have easily been stationed here [in San Diego]. I’ve been curious about meeting someone from that side of my family my entire life, for it to happen like this was really neat. I was never expecting this to happen. It’s in my blood and I didn’t even know it.”
Olsen hopes to meet the rest of his family in the future. He plans to finish school after making his transition to the U.S. Navy Reserve where he will continue working as a BM. After finishing school his dream is to work as a national park ranger, hopefully at the Grand Canyon.
Whatever the future path of these two brothers, neither of them will forget the day they met. Quite literally connected through the line they both took under their control, it wasn’t just their job, it was their shared heritage and now their legacy.