It was 3:54 a.m. on August 8, 2013 when all hell broke loose for coalition troops at Forward Operating Base Ghazni in Northeastern Afghanistan. It began with a huge blast from a car bomb that blew a large hole in the perimeter wall of the base. The Al-Qaeda rebels then unleashed a barrage of mortar fire, along with RPGs and grenades. The battle was on. It would be marked by one particularly heroic act of self-sacrifice that would eventually bring two families from different countries together in remarkable ways.
U.S Army Staff Sgt. Michael Ollis of New Dorp on Staten Island was there serving with the 22nd Infantry, 1st Brigade Combat Team of the 10th Mountain Division of Ft. Drum, New York. When the first explosion occurred he went into action immediately along with his fellow Polish Army coalition partners and an American Special Forces team.
The night air was full of sound and fury.
The Al-Qaeda rebels sent ten suicide bombers into the battle. The coalition troops reacted swiftly, with skill and effectiveness. They were able to kill nine of the suicide bombers before they could have any negative effect on the base or the coalition troops. But the tenth suicide bomber suddenly rushed them from behind some nearby containers. Staff Sgt. Ollis had been fighting side by side with a Polish Army Lt. Karol Cierpica.
When Ollis saw the tenth suicide bomber rushing toward them to detonate his vest, he jumped in front of Lt. Cierpica and shielded him from the blast.
Ollis was killed instantly, but his courageous and unselfish act saved his coalition partner and others. For this act Ollis was awarded the Silver Star, as well as Poland’s highest award for a foreign soldier, the Army Gold Medal. But the story does not end there. In fact it is only beginning…
In the two years since Lt. Cierpica returned home to Poland, a strong bond has been formed between him and the Ollis family. The Ollis family has found a new life in honoring their lost son and brother.
Lt. Cierpica and his wife just had their first baby on January 11, 2015. It was a boy and they have named their son Michael in honor of Staff Sgt. Ollis. It was their way of honoring the memory of the man who had saved the life of a fellow soldier who was not even his countryman.
This year Lt. Cierpica, who loves running, also reached out to Ollis’ two sisters, Kelly Manzolillo and Kimberly Loschiavo. The sisters are also devoted runners and he asked them to run with him in this year’s New York City Marathon in honor of their brother.
For Ollis’ family, this new relationship with Lt. Cierpica and his family has helped them to find something positive beyond the pain of their great loss. Being able to meet and get to know Lt. Cierpica, they have been able to ask questions and get answers that most families with memebers who have died in battle never get the opportunity to ask. Cierpica was there with their brother when he died.
He could tell them exactly what happened. He could give them intimate details that no one else could have.
There is, of course, no good way to get anything like complete closure for a loss like the one the Ollis family has experienced. Time does its job, but you are never really able to fill in that hole that was so swiftly and permanently made in the family fabric. But getting to know the man whose life was saved by their brother has meant a lot to them. Kelly Mansolillo put it this way:
“I feel lucky…We have someone who was there with Michael, the closest thing we can relate to.”
Robert and Linda Ollis, Michael Ollis’ parents, have found hope and even some joy in this unusual relationship as well. When they got word that the Cierpicas had named their new son Michael, in honor of their own son, they had a teddy bear made from material cut from Staff Sgt. Ollis’ fatigues and sent it to the Cierpicas.
The hole in the Ollis family heart can never be filled completely, but this new relationship and the bonding they have experienced with the man whose life was saved by their son has added something positive to their lives. Long live that new relationship.
wish to extend our thoughts, prayers and condolences to the Ollis family. We also wish to express our respect and our thanks to Staff Sgt. Michael Ollis. His courageous act of self-sacrifice that saved the life of Lt. Karol Cierpica and others during that night time battle in Afghanistan revealed the true quality of his character and the depth of his commitment to the well being of others. Staff Sgt. Michael Ollis’ selfless courage will not be forgotten.
We also want to thank Lt. Karol Cierpica and his fellow Polish soldiers for their sacrifices, their courage, and their willingness to fight side-by-side with us against this current enemy of freedom. All of you have a place in our memories and in our hearts. To Staff Sgt. Michael Ollis we say: