WASHINGTON -- The heroic actions of Staff Sgt. Michael H. Ollis saved the life of a Polish officer during a "complex, three-prong attack" on their base in eastern Afghanistan, according to Combined Joint Task Force-101. Ollis, a 10th Mountain Division Soldier, was killed while defending Forward Operating Base Ghazni, Aug. 28, 2013. As a result of his actions that day, he will be honored with the Silver Star, and by Poland with the Polish Armed Forces Gold Medal. His parents, Linda and Robert Ollis, are to receive the Silver Star at Fort Drum, Oct. 24. The Polish Ministry of Defense will tentatively present its medal in a ceremony in New York City, Nov. 8.
In a phone interview from their home in Staten Island, N.Y., Ollis' parents discussed the life, accomplishments and seven-year military career of their 24-year-old son. "We were overwhelmed, I think, first off. We just didn't expect everything that has happened so far," said Linda Ollis, who said the amount of love and support the family has received since Ollis' death has been tremendous.
His parents remembered the "scrawny but tough boy" nicknamed "Mikey Muscles" by his friends, who climbed over everything, zoomed around the neighborhood on his Big Wheel, and had a calling to join his father and grandfathers in military service. "I had some old Army fatigues that he used to wear running around the yard with them on," said Robert Ollis, an Army Vietnam War veteran and, like his son, a Bronze Star recipient. "From when he was a little boy, we knew what Mikey wanted to do. Michael wanted the armed service; he wanted to go into the Army," he said. And so, at age 17, his parents said, they signed for him and he enlisted. He was on his second deployment to Afghanistan at the time of his death. He had also served a tour in Iraq. He loved the people of Iraq and Afghanistan, his parents said. He would tell them that the violence in those countries was due to a small group of people, not the innocent men, women and children the Army is protecting. Linda and Robert Ollis said they couldn't have been prouder of their son, a caring and generous person, they said, who looked out for others and loved the Army and serving the nation. He was a great non-commissioned officer who was just accepted into the prestigious Sgt. Audie Murphy Club, they said. That day in Afghanistan, Ollis charged toward danger to defend the base after it was infiltrated by attackers, the Combined Joint Task Force report said. The attack also claimed the life of a Polish Soldier and wounded several coalition Soldiers. During the attack, a vehicle-borne explosive device detonated and 10 insurgents wearing suicide vests breached the perimeter. Additionally, mortars, rocket-propelled grenades, grenades and small arms fire from the enemy rained down from the east, west and north, according to the CJTF. Ollis, with the 2nd Battalion, 22nd Infantry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, checked on his men, and then headed "directly to the sound of gunfire," joining up with a Polish officer and a Special Forces team. By then, 8 of the 10 insurgents had already been killed. Then the 9th was killed. The 10th insurgent emerged from behind a group of containers; Ollis was the closest Soldier to the attacker. As Ollis moved toward the insurgent, the narrative said, he "stepped in front of the Polish officer, thereby blocking him from the insurgent." When the insurgent's suicide vest detonated, the Polish officer was protected, but Ollis was killed. That heroic act, the Army said, saved the life of the Polish officer. "In emotional interviews with investigators, the Polish officer repeatedly praised Staff Sgt. Ollis and credited him with saving his life," CJTF said. Lt. Gen. Mark A. Milley, commander, International Security Assistance Force, Joint Forces Command, praised Ollis as a great Soldier and said the battle was a "tough fight," but the defenders of the base did "extraordinarily well." "Unfortunately, we lost a great American there from 10th Mountain Division in that attack," he said. In Ollis' hometown, as word of his death spread, mourners left flowers and mementoes outside his parents' home as the community came together to honor their hero. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo directed flags at state buildings to fly at half-staff. On the day of his funeral, residents lined the streets in solemn tribute. Veterans, police officers and firefighters saluted as the procession passed. Hundreds of people attended the funeral, remembering Ollis as a well-liked, neighborhood boy who grew up to become a highly respected member of the military who gave his all in service to his country.