Commander Ona Claire Solberg, USN (Ret), age 64, of Ellensburg, Washington, peacefully took flight at her home, surrounded by family, on Tuesday, March 1, 2022.
“Please don’t mourn my death for I have had a full and great life. I realize it is always harder on the ones left behind. But know that in God’s love we will all be together again. Just remember I will miss you all, but the party goes on and you can bet I’m there!” (Ona Solberg)
And what a full and great life she had.
Ona was born on February 23, 1958 in Tacoma, Washington, the youngest of three children born to Kristen and Opal (Christopherson) Solberg. She spent her childhood in the Tacoma area before her father’s work with the VA transferred the family to Fort Mead, South Dakota, just east of Sturgis. Ona often reminisced of her joy riding her horse with her best friend Laurie through the Black Hills and the wonderful sense of freedom. Much to her dismay, her father was transferred back to Washington, settling into a home on Spanaway Lake. Ona attended Washington High School in Parkland, graduating in 1976. While in high school, Ona showed her true colors as an independent, free-thinking individual who didn’t ascribe to the expected conventions for a woman. Around the age of 16, she purchased a ‘67 Shelby Mustang, rebuilding the engine to beef it up, adding a five-pound racing clutch. She would take her blue Shelby with its white racing stripe to the local drag racing strip on Friday nights, usually winning against anyone who dared to race her. Her mechanical and driving skills got the attention of “Jungle Jim” Lieberman, a successful funny car driver. She was on his staff and drove for him during the summer of 1977.
Ona attended Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, graduating in 1981 with a Bachelor of Science in Aviation Administration and pilot ratings in Commercial Single and Multi-Engine Land with Instrument Rating. She was also a Flight Instructor and Flight Instructor Instrument and received her Commercial Helicopter Rating. Following graduation, the airlines were not hiring so Ona returned to Ellensburg where she bartended and served as a Helitack Crew Chief for the Department of Natural Resources fighting wildfires.
Ona decided to join the Navy to pay off college loans. She enlisted as an Aviation Machinist mate and was designated as an Aircrewman in 1984. Her first assignment was to VR-59 in Dallas, Texas. At the mid-point of her first year, she decided that the Navy offered her something totally unexpected. She decided to apply for an officer commission and fly. Unfortunately, her eyesight prevented her flying, so she became the next best thing, a Naval Intelligence Officer. She was accepted to Aviation Officer Candidate School and commissioned in August 1985. After completing intelligence school at Lowry AFB, Denver, Colorado, she was assigned as the Intelligence Officer for Patrol Wing ONE Detachment on the remote island of Diego Garcia. Now a Lieutenant Junior Grade, her next assignment was to the Fleet Intelligence Center, Pacific on the island of Oahu, Hawaii. Ona was promoted to full Lieutenant in 1989. In 1990 she reported to Commander-in-Chief, U.S. Pacific Fleet, Oahu, Hawaii where she served as the Foreign Liaison Officer for the Assistant Chief of Staff for Intelligence. During that time, she was selected for temporary duty to Commander-in-Chief, Central Command for Operations DESERT SHIELD and DESERT STORM. She was the Intelligence Watch Officer and Operational Intelligence Analyst Briefer for a forward deployed staff under wartime conditions. After returning to Hawaii and on her off hours, Ona was a personal trainer and competitive body builder. She was also the Navy female contestant for an all-military competition on American Gladiator. Ona was in the lead position until she hooked a hurdle and fell, blowing her ACL in the process.
In 1992 she reported to the staff of Commander, Naval Surface Group, Middle Pacific as the Intelligence Officer. Her next assignment in 1994, now as a Lieutenant Commander, was to Commander, Amphibious Squadron Seven out of San Diego, California. Ona charted a new course as the first female Intelligence Officer assigned to an Amphibious Squadron. She completed a six-month Western Pacific deployment aboard the USS New Orleans (LPH-11) providing intelligence support for over 4,000 Navy and Marine Corps personnel. Following a successful WESTPAC deployment, she was assigned to the Commander, Naval Special Warfare Group One as the Intelligence Officer at Coronado. Her duties included the coordination of all intelligence assets for SEAL Teams One, Three, and Five, as well as Naval Special Warfare Units One and Three.
In 1998, she reported to Chief of Naval Operations, Director of Naval Intelligence staff at the Pentagon. During this time, the unthinkable happened. On September 11, 2001, the Pentagon was attacked. Ona spent many days following the attack at the impact site, assisting with the recovery of items from the intelligence spaces, now considered a crime scene, and recovery of classified materials from the Director of Naval Intelligence’s front office suites. It was during this time she was exposed to various mold spores, asbestos, and other carcinogens which likely resulted in her Stage IV cancer diagnosis 15 years later. During her Pentagon assignment, she was promoted to Commander. In November 2001, she reported to the Naval Information Warfare Activity as the Intelligence Department Head in Suitland, Maryland. In 2003, she was designated the Information Technology and Systems Department Head and Chief Information Officer. Ona retired from the Navy on January 1, 2005.
Ona didn’t rest on her laurels. Immediately following her retirement, she worked for a defense contractor located in Reston, Virginia. Looking for something new and different, she left the contracting world to work for Sunset Hills Winery in Purcellville, Virginia as the General Manager and Tasting Room Manager. After six months of winery life, she joined another contractor in March 2006 as the Vice President of Operations and Production with a business focus on China. This opened many opportunities for her to travel to China and meet fascinating individuals. In 2009, she returned to her roots, accepting a senior civilian position on the staff of the Director of Naval Intelligence at the Pentagon where she remained until her final move back to Ellensburg, Washington in 2014 to fully retire.
Once in Ellensburg, again, she didn’t rest. She served on the Jazz in the Valley Board of Directors and the Gallery One Board of Directors. Ona was an avid and talented photographer, having sold several of her prints during Gallery One shows. During her last few years, she traveled to France and took a river cruise from Paris to Normandy. Visiting Normandy had been a life-long desire to see the area that her Aunt Dagny, an Army nurse, came ashore following the D-Day invasion. Last, but certainly not least, Ona enjoyed spending time with her beloved Schipperkes.
Ona is survived by her beloved Laura Stanley; two brothers - Ken and his wife Jacque of Minnetonka, Minnesota and Don and his wife Joy of Ellensburg; three nieces - Jessica Solberg-Black of Ellensburg, Kristin Solberg-McClelland of Ellensburg and Bridget Ehrman-Solberg of Minnetonka as well as Grand Nephews Daxton and Patrick Black. She was preceded in death by her parents and her nephew, Kevin Ehrman-Solberg.
A memorial service will be conducted at 2:00 pm on Saturday, April 2, 2022 at the Morgan Performing Arts Center in Ellensburg. A reception will follow the service at Gard Vintners in downtown Ellensburg. She will ultimately be laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery.
Johnston & Williams Funeral Home and Crematory of Ellensburg has been entrusted with caring for Commander Solberg and her family. Online condolences may be left at www.johnston-williams.com
Click below to hear an interview that CDR Solberg did with Undertaking: The Podcast about her experiences surrounding the attacks of September 11, 2001