Tanja Olsen holds her IMCOM Friends of Recreation award. She was presented this award in late April for her commitment to promoting FMWR and garrison programs through videography at USAG Bavaria. (Photo by Lisa Greco / USAG Bavaria Family & MWR)


By Susan Melnyk, USAG Bavaria Family and MWR


GRAFENWOEHR, Germany – Military spouse Tanja Olsen was presented with the Friends of Recreation volunteer award by U.S. Army Installation Management Command, in late April 2020. Olsen was awarded for her commitment to promoting USAG Bavaria Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation (FMWR) and garrison programs through videography.


Olsen has been the force behind more than 60 videos produced for USAG Bavaria FMWR, over the past three years. Most recently, she edited and shot footage for FMWR’s 2019 admission for the National Recreation and Park Association Gold Medal Award, resulting in a finalist position for the organization.


Born and raised in Germany, Olsen fell in love with videography after moving to the United States with her husband, a warrant officer in the U.S. Army.


“Our second child was born six weeks after my husband deployed, and I would record videos to send him,” she explained. “I realized that I could put all those little videos together and send them out to our families as a Christmas card. It was a way to let our families and friends see what we’d been up to throughout the year and how our kids had grown.”


Starting something new is not always easy, but Olsen persevered.


“The first one was almost an hour long. When I look at it now, it was horrible. You have to start somewhere, and at first you don’t know about editing. You don’t know how to tell a story,” said Olsen. “But it was a start. And the family started demanding those videos every year, because they get to see the kids — hear them and watch them run around together.”


Olsen went back to school to complete a bachelor’s degree in digital media and web design. Then shortly after she graduated, the family received orders for Germany. Having spent the majority of her adult life in the United States, the mother of three had not considered how a return tour to Germany would affect her career.


“I didn’t realize that I wouldn’t be able to apply for most positions on-post, due to being a German citizen and falling under SOFA,” she explained. “I started to look around for a place to volunteer, and found the FMWR marketing office.”


Over the course of three years, Olsen donated over 550 volunteer hours, resulting in more than 60 videos shown at briefings and shared on Facebook across the garrison — all while working on her MBA at the University of Maryland Global Campus on Tower Barracks.


“Where would I be able to film a sporting event, music concert, family event, a huge public event like Volksfest, theater performances and musicals?” Olsen questioned. “Where else would I be able to get experience in all of those genres to put in my portfolio?”


With her MBA completed, what is on the horizon for Olsen and her family?


“Another move!” Olsen answered. “I’d love to work for a news station or movie production company.”


Reflecting on her time spent in this community, she has a piece of advice for her fellow military spouses at USAG Bavaria. 


“Don’t stay in the house,” Olsen encouraged. “Get out and volunteer.”

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