USN Captain Gerald Olin Reflects on 41-Years of Service and Leadership

USN Captain Gerald Olin Reflects on 41-Years of Service and Leadership

Captain Gerald Olin, Commanding Officer of NROTC San Diego, stands on a beach in front of the battalion.

Captain Gerald Olin '06 (MS) has biked about 100,000 miles during the past decade. He would start at 5 a.m., leaving Coronado and arriving at the University of San Diego (USD) by 7 a.m. He repeated the two-hour trek in the evening, making it home in time for dinner.

“It’s been my main routine for fun, staying in shape and avoiding traffic,” says Capt. Olin. “It’s a good chance to think and clear your mind to prepare for your day.”

Capt. Olin, 59, is ready to retire from a 41-year career in the United States Navy and embark on a new journey.

Early Life in the U.S. Navy

Capt. Olin grew up in Minneapolis, Minnesota where he lived until the age of 14 before he and his parents moved to a warmer climate in Phoenix, Arizona. In 1983, at 17, he enlisted in the U.S. Navy with a signature from his parents.

"Nobody in my family had any experience with the Navy. The television commercials for the Navy looked interesting, and they got me,” he recalls with a laugh.

Advancing Through the Ranks

Capt. Olin initially planned on serving his six-year commitment before pursuing college. His plans changed when the Navy offered him bonus money and educational opportunities to advance his naval career. Capt. Olin re-enlisted, and by 26, achieved the rank of Fire Controlman (Aegis) Chief Petty Officer.

In 1994, Capt. Olin was selected for a direct commissioning program, transitioning from the enlisted ranks to officer. This milestone opened up new avenues for Capt. Olin, leading him down a path of learning and leadership development. He earned a Bachelor of Business from National University and a Master of Science in Global Leadership from USD.

"Had I not gone to USD, none of the opportunities moving forward would have been available to me,” reflects Capt. Olin.

Career Milestones

Throughout his career, Capt. Olin has held numerous sea and shore positions. He served as the Systems Test Officer on USS Benfold (DDG 65), Assistant Strike Officer for Cruiser Destroyer Group Five where he deployed to Italy as Tomahawk Liaison Officer in support of Operation Allied Force and the Kosovo Air Campaign, and Weapons Officer on USS Decatur (DDG 73).

His shore assignments included roles as the Officer in Charge of the Center for Surface Combat Systems Detachment San Diego and as the Director of the Commander's Action Group for Naval Surface Forces Pacific.

One of the most significant milestones in Capt. Olin's career was his command of USS Independence (LCS 2), Gold Crew, where he oversaw fleet integration and mine warfare developmental testing. This role prepared him for his following as Commander of Amphibious Squadron One/Essex Amphibious Ready Group, in which he successfully led a deployment to the Fifth and Seventh Fleets, marking the first West Coast deployment of the F-35B.

"The biggest job for me was being a commanding officer of a Navy ship because it’s a special trust and confidence that go along with those assignments,” explains Capt. Olin. “When you’re a junior officer on the bridge of a ship, you can always look over your shoulder and the captain is there. So, whenever you have doubt as to whether you’re doing something right or the safety of how you’re driving the ship, you can always look over your shoulder. Then one day, you get to be that person. You look over your shoulder and there’s nobody there anymore.”

Capt. Olin’s final sea assignment was as Chief of Staff, Carrier Strike Group One/Carl Vinson Strike Group. It was the challenge of that assignment that opened the doors for him to be considered for Commanding Officer of NROTC San Diego.

"[Commanding Officer, NROTC San Diego] is a coveted position because it’s in San Diego and because it’s such a great program. It’s almost like lighting has to strike to get the timing of things to work to get the job,” he says.

Lightning did strike.

Leading NROTC San Diego

In December 2020, amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Capt. Olin became the Commanding Officer of NROTC San Diego. He navigated the challenges of remote learning while continuing to provide exceptional leadership and mentorship to the midshipmen under his command.

"Coming out of the pandemic, we learned how to do business differently with the tools we have like Zoom. I think it’s great having people in person, but we learned how to have more flexibility in how we work and how we run our schedules,” says Capt. Olin.

Pandemic or not, Capt. Olin has focused his efforts on fostering a strong sense of unity between the Navy and Marine Corps students, emphasizing the importance of their shared mission and values.

"I learned the importance of the Navy and the Marine Corps early on in my career. Once I got into the amphibious side of things, I realized what an important team we are, so I stress that with all my students here – we’re not two separate groups –  we’re Naval ROTC students.”

Capt. Olin's leadership philosophy is also centered on the belief that every individual deserves the opportunity to learn and grow from their mistakes. He strives to create an environment where his midshipmen feel supported, encouraging openness and honesty.

"The one thing I’ve learned, whether it’s here as ROTC CO or in my jobs in the Fleet, is that sometime you have to develop people. Not everybody has the skills to be successful right away, and that requires a little bit of patience. They may make mistakes. They may do things wrong, but find a way to get them to be successful,” he says. "If somebody makes a mistake and owns up to it, I’m always going to work with that person to find a path where they can move on and be successful. I think it’s a good philosophy to have, no matter what industry you’re in to help build people up.”

The advice Capt. Olin’s offers newly commissioned officers underscores this belief: "Take care of your Sailors and Marines, and I guarantee you, they will take care of you.”

"It’s a two-way street. If you give your Sailors and Marines a good working environment where they feel supported, they’ll work hard for you. But you have to start as the leader by setting the conditions for them to be successful,” he adds.

Changing Course

As Capt. Olin prepares to retire from the Navy, he reflects on his journey with a sense of gratitude.

"I’ve loved working at USD. I feel privileged to be here and get to be a part of it. The university staff and faculty, President James Harris, Dean Kimberly White-Smith … everybody that I’ve worked with has been incredible. I really wanted to have one of the best programs in the country, and I think we do.”

Capt. Olin looks forward to the next chapter of his life in Minnesota with his wife, Abigail '05 (MS), who is the Commanding Officer of the NROTC program at the University of Minnesota.

"I’ll look for a job,” says Capt. Olin about his next steps. “I don’t want to retire, retire. I’m not ready for that. I’m just ready for the next chapter in my life.”

Fair winds and following seas, Capt. Olin.

— Kelsey Grey ’15 (BA)