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Parents of fallen Fort Drum soldier receive his Silver Star
By Gordon Block
Published: October 25, 2013
Staff Sgt. Michael H. Ollis
FORT DRUM, N.Y. —
In the chaos of a multi-pronged enemy attack on Forward Operating Base Ghazni in late August, Staff Sgt. Michael H. Ollis found himself with many decisions to make.
And he made several brave choices, his last being to sacrifice his own life to save a Polish officer.
“There were multiple choices, multiple outcomes, all equally honorable,” said Col. Stephen A. Michael, commander of the 10th Mountain Division’s 1st Brigade Combat Team, holding back tears. “He could have easily chosen safety, but he moved toward the sound of the guns and, in so doing, saved lives.”
At a remembrance ceremony on post Thursday afternoon, Sgt. Ollis’s parents were presented with their son’s Silver Star Medal, the military’s third highest decoration for valor.
The battle Aug. 28 in eastern Afghanistan started with the blast of a car bomb containing about 3,000 pounds of explosives, shredding through the wall of the base and allowing 10 suicide-vest-wearing insurgents to enter the compound.
Sitting at the post Morale, Welfare and Recreation building at the time of the blast, Sgt. Ollis sent his team members to get ready, and made the choice to head toward the site of the explosion with only one magazine in his rifle and wearing no armor.
“He probably chose the hardest one, the one that had the greatest impact,” said Maj. Gen. Stephen J. Townsend, post and division commander.
Along the way, Sgt. Ollis, of the 2nd Battalion, 22nd Infantry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, found a Polish lieutenant whose leg had taken shrapnel from the explosion. After helping him up, Sgt. Ollis moved the Polish officer to where other special forces personnel had engaged with the attacking insurgents.
With eight of the 10 insurgents killed, the Polish officer whom Sgt. Ollis was helping was injured in the other leg by a grenade thrown by the ninth attacker.
Sgt. Ollis was giving medical treatment to the Polish officer when the final suicide-vest-wearing attacker approached from a different angle than the other insurgents. At that point, Sgt. Ollis stood up and moved himself between the Polish officer and the attacker, killing the militant. But the enemy’s vest then exploded, killing Sgt. Ollis.
Following Thursday’s ceremony at Fort Drum, Sgt. Ollis’s parents, Robert E. and Linda Ollis of Staten Island, said they felt both pride and anguish over their son’s actions that day.
“Being selfish, I’m thinking, ‘What the hell did you do that for?’” Mr. Ollis said.
However, Mrs. Ollis said, with time her son’s actions have made more sense.
“Because we knew the type of character he was and how seriously he took his job, it’s not surprising,” Mrs. Ollis said. “I guess we really do know why he did what he did.”
Also in attendance were Sgt. Ollis’s sisters, Kimberly E. Loschiavo and Kelly M. Manzolillo, and other relatives.
Sgt. Ollis, who Mrs. Ollis said loved playing with his Army action figures as a child, received permission from his parents to enlist at age 17. Even after his death, his father, a Vietnam veteran, said he would not have changed his decision.
“It’s what my son wanted to do,” he said. “He wanted to be a soldier, and we supported him 100 percent.”
Mr. and Mrs. Ollis said their son was excited about continuing his Army career, signing up for six more years in uniform while he was on deployment. Sgt. Ollis had told his parents that the group of soldiers he served with was “like finding another family.”
Multiple soldiers at the ceremony spoke highly of Sgt. Ollis’s actions and leadership.
During his remarks, Staff Sgt. Brian C. Schnell said Sgt. Ollis, his friend and fellow leader, likely was in heaven telling St. Peter how to do his job.
“I hope to see you again someday,” he said. “Put in a good word for me.”
Thursday’s ceremony will not be the last honor for Sgt. Ollis. His parents will be presented with his Gold Medal of the Polish Armed Forces during a ceremony planned in November at the Polish consulate in New York City.
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