Staff Sgt. Michael Ollis was killed in action while shielding a Polish soldier from a suicide bomber on Aug. 28, 2013, in Ghazni province, Afghanistan.
The 24-year-old soldier, an infantryman with 10th Mountain Division out of Fort Drum, New York, originally received the Silver Star for his actions, which took place during a massive attack beginning with a car bomb that breached the base’s eastern perimeter wall and allowed roughly 10 insurgents in suicide bomber vests to infiltrate the compound.
Nearly six years later, Ollis’ award was upgraded to the Distinguished Service Cross, the second highest military honor that can be awarded to a U.S. soldier.
The attack on Forward Operating Base Ghazni incorporated vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices, suicide vests, indirect fire and small arms fire. When it began, Ollis ordered his fellow soldiers to move to bunkers to shield themselves from fire, according to a copy of his citation provided to Army Times.
After accounting for his troops, Ollis checked for any casualties in a building hit by the blast and then moved toward the enemy fighters who had penetrated the perimeter of the base. He managed to locate a fellow coalition soldier, a Polish Army officer, and together they moved toward the point of attack without their personal protection equipment and armed only with their rifles.
The two linked up with other friendlies and worked to repulse the insurgents who had breached their defenses, all while under continuous small arms, indirect and rocket-propelled grenade fires. During the fighting, an insurgent with a suicide bomber vest rounded a corner and began advancing on them while shooting.
Ollis, without body armor, put himself between the insurgent and a Polish Army officer named Lt. Karol Cierpica who had been wounded in both legs and was unable to walk.
“Ollis fired on the insurgent and incapacitated him, but as he approached the insurgent, the insurgent’s suicide vest detonated mortally wounding him,” the citation for the Distinguished Service Cross reads.
Army Vice Chief of Staff Gen. James McConville presented the upgraded award during a ceremony on Staten Island, New York, on Saturday to the fallen soldier’s father and sister, Robert Ollis and Kimberly Loschiavo, according to a Fort Drum release.
The ceremony took place at a VFW post named in Ollis’ honor.
Polish Army Lt. Karol Cierpica later named his newborn son after Ollis in honor of the sacrifice.
“I was privileged to serve with Michael and Karol when I was the 101st Airborne Division commanding general in Regional Command East while they were deployed,” McConville said at the ceremony, according to the release. “Their actions that day in August against a very determined enemy saved many, many lives.”
The Ollis and Cierpica families have grown close over the years.
Prior to his son’s birth, Cierpica received a teddy bear from Ollis’ family, made using their son’s combat uniform. Ollis also received the Army Gold Medal from Poland, the highest honor a foreign soldier can receive from the NATO ally.
“Through the tears, we have to tell the story of Karol and Michael,” Robert Ollis said during the ceremony, according to the release.
“They just locked arms and followed each other," Robert Ollis added. "They didn’t worry about what language or what color it was. It was two battle buddies, and that’s what Karol and Michael did. To help everyone on that FOB they possibly could.”
In the attack, Ollis and one other Polish soldier were killed. Ten Polish soldiers and dozens of Afghans were reportedly wounded, according to an Army account of the Aug. 28 action obtained by Army Times in 2013.
Then-Lt. Gen. Mark Milley, who was second in command of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force at the time, said the attack was part of an aggressive push by insurgents to penetrate fixed targets of political significance using suicide bombers and fighters on foot.
“Unfortunately, we lost a great American there from 10th Mountain Division in that attack, but the defenders did extraordinarily well,” said Milley, who is also a former commander of the 10th Mountain Division.
Kyle Rempfer is an editor and reporter who has covered combat operations, criminal cases, foreign military assistance and training accidents. Before entering journalism, Kyle served in U.S. Air Force Special Tactics and deployed in 2014 to Paktika Province, Afghanistan, and Baghdad, Iraq.