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NCO overcomes fear, lands ‘dream gig’ at NFL

By MASTER SGT. GARY QUALLS JR.
NCO Journal

Most Soldiers don’t imagine they will be in a dream job, working in a big-time environment, planning and setting up exciting events, bumping into famous personalities, enjoying every minute of the journey along the way.

Staff Sgt. Kyle Richardson knows that feeling. He is living that seemingly distant dream — in an internship with the National Football League at NFL Headquarters in New York.

“To actually be here, it is almost like a dream,” Richardson said of his high-profile temporary position. “I’ll be walking down the hall and see one of my childhood heroes.”

Training With Industry

Richardson wasn’t going to apply for the internship, thinking he would never be selected, but Sgt. Maj. Kanessa Trent, then the U. S. Army Pacific Public Affairs sergeant major, encouraged him to apply. Now his place of duty is NFL Headquarters through the Army’s Training With Industry program.

The TWI program offers selected NCOs and officers the chance to don civilian attire for a year and work in private industry, observing industry practices, communication tactics and work flow. NCOs who participate in the program say the year not only helps them gain knowledge they will need when they eventually retire from the Army, but also helps them learn tactics that can help the Army. After their year in private industry, NCOs who participate in the TWI program serve in utilization assignments in the Army, using and sharing the knowledge they gained.

Living the dream

NFL headquarters is definitely the “big time,” said Richardson, who works in the NFL’s communication department writing news releases and media advisories, promoting events through social media platforms and ensuring NFL executives have talking points for various public occasions.

“You know what you’re capable of, but so does everyone else there,” he said, adding that many of his coworkers were NFL players for “years and years.”

NFL headquarters is a bustling work environment where crises arise occasionally, and the pressure mounts.

Staff Sgt. Kyle Richardson stands with Green Bay Packers cornerback Jarrett Bush during the Pro Football League Hall of Fame Game in August in Canton, Ohio. (Photo courtesy of Staff Sgt. Kyle Richardson)
Staff Sgt. Kyle Richardson stands with Green Bay Packers cornerback Jarrett Bush during the Pro Football League Hall of Fame Game in August in Canton, Ohio. (Photo courtesy of Staff Sgt. Kyle Richardson)

“It’s not national security or life and limb, but you’re involved in projects that entail millions of dollars,” Richardson said.

The closest to NFL greatness Richardson thought he would get was collecting grass stains on his clothing while calling out the names of NFL legends. He said walking into the NFL headquarters for the first time left him speechless. He said there were few feelings greater than walking in the same footsteps as some of his boyhood idols.

“It’s not the building, decor or people that will leave you breathless,” he said. “It’s that single, personal thought of ‘you’ve made it.’”

The sports-laden and inspiring facilities at the NFL headquarters made an impression. Richardson recalled walking into a part of the building where Super Bowl rings were displayed. He marveled at the long line of history, tradition and the amount of sweat that it took to earn each one.

“That’s a lot of greatness in this spot,” he said, as he described the display case. “Each diamond resembled some Sunday-night lights from some game that millions watched and dreamed to be a part of. And just think about it, I’m here now — where millions want to be, and at the end of my year, I will be a part of the NFL’s coveted history.”

NFL experiences

Richardson has had some uncommon experiences outside of the headquarters as well, such as meeting and talking with NFL stars. On one occasion, he worked at a free concert the NFL sponsored for fans, and Steve Atwater, who earned eight Pro Bowl selections and two Super Bowl rings during his NFL playing days, called out, “C’mon over!” to Richardson. They talked for quite a while.

“He’s a real laid back guy,” Richardson said of Atwater.

The Michigan City, Indiana, native also met and took a photo with one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time — Payton Manning. Manning led Richardson’s favorite team, the Indianapolis Colts, to a Super Bowl Championship.

In addition, Roman Oben — who played in the NFL for 12 years, including on a Super Bowl championship team, and is now the league’s director of Youth and High School Football — often pulls Richardson aside and talks to him.

Most NFL players and former players are approachable, Richardson said.

Changed perspective

The internship has changed Richardson’s perspective on the league from that of a fan to that of an employee who can see all the moving parts of the grand production. For example, Richardson said, there’s a lot more to working a game than merely watching it, such as ensuring the clubs are following league policies and standards, assessing extracurricular activities both in and out of the stadium, providing feedback on stadium traffic and ease of entering and exiting, and even evaluating the concession stands and staff.

“There’s a lot more than glamour and lights when it comes to football,” he said.

Although the corporate world seems far distant from military life, there are some similarities, Richardson said.

For example, being at the right place at the right time is important in both fields. However, corporate employees’ day-to-day schedules are largely their own, as long as they get their projects completed, but they are expected to be on time for meetings, he said.

“In the Army, though, on time is late. Some of the corporate guys show up at the exact time of the meeting,” he noted.

As far as the players in the NFL, they often don’t admit it when they get injured, just as rugged troops from line units will “soldier on,” despite being hurt.

Richardson also noted that NFL rookies and Army privates are treated similarly.

“Both rookies and privates come straight out of high school or college and join a larger organization that helps them prepare,” he said. “The league helps rookies with managing finances, staying out of trouble, health and safety, dealing with the media, planning for their future and just through the whole transition. Army leaders help privates in many of the same areas.”

Lessons Learned

Richardson admitted to making a rookie mistake at NFL headquarters. He wore a pullover with the logo of his beloved Indianapolis Colts to work one day. He was quickly and emphatically told to change his shirt.

“You have to be very neutral here,” he explained.

Richardson has also noticed some differences between corporate America and the Army.

“Here, they operate by ‘big boy rules,’” he said. “They won’t follow behind you, whereas the Army is more directed. You don’t need permission to take off here.”

Another difference is that the work load is spread out more in the corporate world.

“You’re not in anything alone,” he explained. “Projects are really broken down into teams. You rarely do something from beginning to end on your own. In the Army, though, you take on so much sometimes you are overwhelmed.”

Finally, Richardson acknowledged the difference he sees in camaraderie and teamwork between corporate life and the Army.

“Our department is a little better, but a lot of times in the corporate world they don’t have time to get to know each other,” he said. “They don’t have the same kind of camaraderie as we do in the Army.”

NFL’s perspective

The internship through the TWI program has proved to be a valuable experience in which Richardson has learned a great deal, while contributing to the betterment of the NFL.

“He brings a new perspective, based on his Army experience, to the team,” said his supervisor at NFL Headquarters, Community Relations Manager Melissa Schiller.

“He is very on top of everything he’s given, and he has a great deal of discipline,” she said. “He’s very diligent and very adaptable in a job that’s a new experience for him — and different every day.”

Richardson helps the team at NFL Headquarters in building a better relationship with the military, often asking if the military can be invited to events sponsored by the NFL, Schiller said.

“This is a great experience for us as well as for Kyle,” Schiller said.

Maj. Earl Brown, who also participates in the program as an active-duty Soldier, agreed with Schiller’s assessment of Richardson.

“He’s not only willing to jump in with everyone else on projects, learn and continue to fight, but he seeks out projects,” he said.

Brown, who looks at Richardson as his “battle buddy,” says he and Richardson speak a “different language” than their co-workers at NFL Headquarters.

“We can look at each other, and we know what’s going on,” he said.

Brown pointed out that, “what we bring to the table is a sense of duty,” citing how the leadership at NFL Headquarters didn’t have to worry about Richardson reporting for duty at 4 a.m. for his media team responsibilities associated with the NFL season kickoff in Denver.

He said he and Richardson conduct “backward planning” to the “SP” (start point) on media team projects, and he agreed with Richardson that oftentimes the corporate world doesn’t enjoy the tight-knit quality of the Army.

“We communicate,” Brown said. “We’re definitely a ‘fire team.’”

Family perspective          

When asked to compare the NFL experience with Army life, Richardson’s wife, Nancy Richardson, a former NCO herself, quipped, “The TDYs are shorter!”

On a more serious note, Nancy Richardson said another big difference between Army and corporate life is there is really no tie-in to families from the business world.

“At NFL headquarters, there are a lot of single players and employees, and family activities are the last thing they want to be involved with,” she said.

However, Nancy Richardson and other military spouses have tried to start some corporate involvement with families and are hoping those efforts bear fruit soon.

“Sometimes corporate America doesn’t expect NCOs to be that intelligent, so when someone like Kyle shows what he can do, the corporate employees really appreciate seeing that,” she said. “This temporary transition back into civilian life gives him an idea, not just of the work load, but how to look sharp in business attire, how to present himself in meetings, as well as how to network in the corporate world,” adding that it’s reassuring for him to see he can make it in that environment.

“It gives us that spark of hope,” she said.

It also gives him an opportunity to highlight the need to support Soldiers, she said.

Nancy Richardson said her husband was fortunate because he had a good leader in Trent who steered him to the opportunity, but she pointed to a need for wider exposure by the Army of the TWI program.

“We need this program to really help our troops for the future,” she said. “There are incentives for hiring veterans, but not for bringing active-duty Soldiers into these valuable programs.”

Some think TWI leads directly to Soldiers transitioning into civilian life after their training is complete, but — as a former Transition Assistance/Soldier for Life counselor — Kyle Richardson said that is not true. For instance, Richardson’s training with the NFL entailed a commitment of three additional years to the Army.

To Soldiers thinking about applying for a temporary position with the NFL or another industry, Richardson said, “Don’t be afraid. You’ll never know if you can make it until you try.”

“I know that, with this experience, if I were to do something after the military, I would be successful,” he said. “It gives you extra experience and extra knowledge. It’s a resume builder. And they’re not going to allow you to fail.”

Richardson added his Army experience and knowledge has helped his present duty with the NFL.

“I’ve applied what the Army has taught me and, with the skills I’ve learned, it has really set me up for success,” he said. “Now, I don’t fear trying new experiences.”

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, center, stands with, from left, Sean Estrada, former San Francisco 49ers offensive lineman; Jaime Martinez, security officer and Staff Sgt. Kyle Richardson, Training With Industry Military Fellow as they watch Marquil Guice, a recruiter assigned to the United States Military Academy, play a game of Madden 17 against David Romero, a future Soldier, during the first Pro vs. GI Joes video game competition at the National Football League's Headquarters building, Nov. 2. The event kicked off the NFL’s annual Salute-to-Service campaign that recognizes and honor the servicemen and women around the world. (Photo courtesy of Staff Sgt. Kyle Richardson)
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, center, stands with, from left, Sean Estrada, former San Francisco 49ers offensive lineman; Jaime Martinez, security officer and Staff Sgt. Kyle Richardson, Training With Industry Military Fellow as they watch Marquil Guice, a recruiter assigned to the United States Military Academy, play a game of Madden 17 against David Romero, a future Soldier, during the first Pro vs. GI Joes video game competition at the National Football League’s Headquarters building, Nov. 2. The event kicked off the NFL’s annual Salute-to-Service campaign that recognizes and honor the servicemen and women around the world. (Photo courtesy of Staff Sgt. Kyle Richardson)

VTT connects in new way with Battle Staff NCO Course students

By MARTHA C. KOESTER
NCO Journal

The U.S. Army Video Teletraining Program for the Battle Staff Noncommissioned Officer Course at the U.S. Army Sergeants Major Academy at Fort Bliss, Texas, has long since established its reputation as a cost-effective program.

VTT eliminates the need for students’ temporary duty assignments and allows one instructor to teach many Soldiers at remote locations. Its savings benefits just grew as the nonresident training program recently eliminated a third-party contracting agency, which connected all sites, in favor of a more direct connection that the Battle Staff Noncommissioned Officer Course can control.

The result is a new clarity in photo transmission for students, as well as a staff of instructors excited to deliver the next generation of VTT with enhanced equipment, said Master Sgt. Andrea Thomas, Video Teleconference manager and senior instructor, BSNCOC.

Sgt. 1st Class Khambao Mounlasy, a VTT instructor, says he values sharing his experience with noncommissioned officers out in the field. Mounlasy spoke with students and tries out the functions of the new enhanced equipment. (Photo by Martha C. Koester / NCO Journal)
Sgt. 1st Class Khambao Mounlasy, a VTT instructor, says he values sharing his experience with noncommissioned officers out in the field. Mounlasy spoke with students and tries out the functions of the new enhanced equipment. (Photo by Martha C. Koester / NCO Journal)

“We are the controlling tower, if you will,” Thomas said. “It will be easier, and it saves the Army money. This equipment is phenomenal. Our old equipment, you kind of had to patch it up and keep it going. We were well overdue.”

The new equipment will ease operations and help get instructors back to the fast-paced business of training the future leaders of the Army.

“I love it; it’s back-to-back-to-back classes,” Thomas said. “It’s a phenomenal course, and you get to train NCOs. What is better than that?”

“It’s been a good experience being an instructor and sharing the knowledge and my experience with the fellow noncommissioned officer out there in the field,” said Sgt. 1st Class Khambao Mounlasy, VTT instructor. “It’s fun. I learn new things every day from the students as well.”

Because they are transmitting remotely, VTT instructors have experienced their fair share of technical difficulties.

The enhanced VTT equipment offers the nonresident training program of the Battle Staff Noncommissioner Course a new clarity in photo transmission, instructors say. (Photo by Martha C. Koester / NCO Journal)
The enhanced VTT equipment offers the nonresident training program of the Battle Staff Noncommissioner Course a new clarity in photo transmission, instructors say. (Photo by Martha C. Koester / NCO Journal)

“We have to have a back-up plan because Murphy’s Law has littered our course with everything you could think of,” Thomas said. “In the wintertime, our East Coast folks at posts such as Fort Drum, New York, and Fort Bragg, North Carolina, have bad weather and a lot of connectivity issues. We have seen it all. We have been quite talented in working around those issues, and we have accomplished the mission every time — graduating as many NCOs as possible. That is the goal, and that is what we are here for.”

Thomas said the support of USASMA’s leadership helped the success of the Battle Staff Noncommissioned Officer Course.

“I am thankful that we have the leadership that we have [at USASMA] because they are very supportive,” she said. “And the team we work with — we know there is a chain of command to follow, but we all treat each other as peers and that’s what works.”

Thomas said the experience she has gained as part of BSNCOC will serve her well as she transitions out of the Army.                 “The leadership, networking and being able to connect to people and seeing what works in the organization [has benefited me],” Thomas said. “I was able to get all of those tools working here in the Battle Staff.”

2 NCOs to be awarded Medal of Honor for actions during World War I

By PABLO VILLA
NCO Journal

Command Sgt. Maj. Louis Wilson will retire next year after 39 years of service to the New York Army National Guard. His career has produced such notable moments as being part of rescue operations in response to various natural disasters, being part of aid missions after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks in New York City, deploying to Iraq for a year in 2004 and, just last year, being named the command sergeant major of the New York National Guard.

But, he says, his accomplishments throughout those nearly four decades pale in comparison to what Sgt. Henry Johnson did one day in 1918.

“I think about myself and my career — I’ve had a few achievements,” Wilson said. “But just looking at Henry Johnson and all he did in a day — my 39 years doesn’t come close.”

Sgt. Henry Johnson, of the 369th Infantry Regiment, was awarded the French Croix de Guerre avec Palme on Feb. 12, 1919, for bravery during a battle with German soldiers the previous year. (Photo courtesy of Army News Service)
Sgt. Henry Johnson, of the 369th Infantry Regiment, was awarded the French Croix de Guerre avec Palme on Feb. 12, 1919, for bravery during a battle with German soldiers the previous year. (Photo courtesy of Army News Service)

What then-Pvt. Johnson did May 15, 1918, during World War I was immediately deemed worthy of France’s highest award for valor — the Croix de Guerre avec Palme. Nearly a century later, his own country will follow suit, posthumously awarding Johnson, who retired as a sergeant, the Medal of Honor during a ceremony Tuesday at the White House. Wilson will accept the award from President Barack Obama on Johnson’s behalf, as he has no surviving family members.

The nation’s highest honor will also be posthumously awarded to Sgt. William Shemin during the same ceremony.

Johnson, who was African-American, will receive the Medal of Honor for his actions to fight off a German raid party using his Bowie knife. He was on night sentry duty with Pvt. Needham Roberts in an area northwest of Sainte-Menehould, France, between the Tourbe and Aisne rivers. According to information from the White House, the pair came under a surprise attack by a dozen German soldiers.

While under intense fire and despite his own wounds, Johnson kept an injured Roberts from being taken prisoner. He came forward from his position to engage an enemy soldier in hand-to-hand combat. Wielding only a knife and gravely wounded, Johnson continued fighting until the enemy retreated.

Johnson was in France as part of C Company of the 15th New York (Colored) Infantry Regiment, which he joined in June 1917. The all-black National Guard unit would later become the 369th Infantry Regiment — the famed Harlem Hellfighters — part of the 93rd Division, which was ordered to the front lines to fight with the French in 1918. After being awarded the Croix de Guerre in 1919, Johnson died in 1929 without further fanfare. He was posthumously awarded the Purple Heart in 1996 and the Distinguished Service Cross in 2002. But until now, he had been overlooked for the Medal of Honor.

“It’s a good thing. The injustice that was done back then, it’s been overturned,” Wilson said. “Things have changed. We see now that the valor that he displayed, he should’ve been honored. We’re glad he is honored now. There shouldn’t be a difference who you are. We enlist and, no matter who you are, we fight side by side. You learn to take care of each other. That’s what he did, he took care of his battle buddy.”

Wilson said during his early days living and working in the Albany, N.Y., area, it was difficult not to see reminders of Johnson. Drivers make their way along Henry Johnson Boulevard. Children are dropped off at Henry Johnson Charter School. A granite tribute to Johnson sits on the southeast corner of Washington Park near downtown Albany.

“When I first came to post as the command sergeant major of the state of New York, I had heard about Henry Johnson,” Wilson said. “I had to research him. I did a lot of reading and realized he really was a hero.”

While Wilson thought Johnson was deserving of much higher accolades, he never believed he would be a part of the pomp that came with it. He was aware that efforts by various organizations on Johnson’s behalf to award him the Medal of Honor were ongoing, but when he received a phone call three weeks ago from Maj. Gen. Patrick Murphy, New York’s adjutant general, Wilson said he was shocked. Murphy explained that as the command sergeant major of the New York National Guard, it made sense for Wilson to accept the honor on behalf of the long-deceased Guard Soldier.

“I was blindsided. I wasn’t expecting that,” Wilson said. “I think it’s a big honor. I’m proud, I’m happy, I’m glad that I’m the one who will represent him and will accept this honor from the president.”

Though the medal is significant, Wilson said it is being awarded to a Soldier who did what all Soldiers should be doing.

New York Army National Guard Command Sgt. Maj. Louis Wilson will represent Sgt. Henry Johnson, a World War I Soldier, scheduled to receive a posthumous Medal of Honor on Tuesday during a White House ceremony. (Photo by Master Sgt. Corine Lombardo / Army News Service)
New York Army National Guard Command Sgt. Maj. Louis Wilson will represent Sgt. Henry Johnson, a World War I Soldier, scheduled to receive a posthumous Medal of Honor on Tuesday during a White House ceremony. (Photo by Master Sgt. Corine Lombardo / Army News Service)

“He had a belief,” Wilson said of Johnson. “He wanted to prove himself. He overcame many things to become a Soldier and he overcame that night (of the attack). He was awarded the French’s highest award and to come back here and get nothing? But he proved himself and there is a reward, whether it’s a medal or whether it’s a sense of belonging. I see that in Henry Johnson with the smile that he gave in pictures that we have. I can imagine if he was here today he’d say, ‘What’s the big fuss about? I went over there and did my duty.’ And that’s the way it should be.”

Wilson adds that despite the time that has transpired since Johnson’s heroism and the many social and technological changes, that today’s NCOs can still learn from his actions.

“Live the Army values,” Wilson said. “Do your job, know your job and take care of others. No matter what you do, it’s all about duty and serving. Never give up.

“At the time, he was a private. When you enlist in the service, you’re a private. But you quickly learn. You learn the positions two, three steps ahead of what you are and you grow up quick. That’s the Army. It’s being able to think on your feet and not give up. He never gave up.”

Shemin takes charge

Shemin was born Oct. 14, 1896, in Bayonne, N.J. He graduated from the New York State Ranger School in 1914, and went on to work as a forester in Bayonne.

Shemin enlisted in the Army on Oct. 2, 1917. Upon completion of basic training at Camp Greene, N.C., he was assigned as a rifleman to G Company, 47th Infantry Regiment, 4th Infantry Division, which headed to France after merely 17 days of field training.

Sgt. William Shemin, right, poses with a fellow Soldier in this undated photo. Shemin will be awarded a posthumous Medal of Honor on Tuesday. (Photo courtesy of Army News Service)
Sgt. William Shemin, right, poses with a fellow Soldier in this undated photo. Shemin will be awarded a posthumous Medal of Honor on Tuesday. (Photo courtesy of Army News Service)

While serving as a rifleman during the Aisne-Marne Offensive from Aug. 7 to 9, 1918, he left the cover of his platoon’s trench and crossed open space, repeatedly exposing himself to heavy machinegun and rifle fire to rescue the wounded.

After officers and senior noncommissioned officers had become casualties, Shemin took command of the platoon until he was wounded by shrapnel and a machinegun bullet, which pierced his helmet and lodged behind his left ear. He was hospitalized for three months and then was placed on light duty as part of the Army occupation in Germany and Belgium.

For his injuries, he received the Purple Heart and was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross on Dec. 29, 1919.

Shemin was honorably discharged in August 1919, and went on to receive a degree from the New York State College of Forestry at Syracuse University. After graduation, he started a greenhouse and landscaping business in Bronx, N.Y., where he raised three children. He died in 1973.

His eldest daughter, Elsie Shemin-Roth of Webster Grove, Mo., began an effort in the early 2000s to give her father a chance at being awarded the Medal of Honor. Her endeavor was spurred by news that a group of Jewish-American World War II veterans were getting their Army Distinguished Service Cross, Navy Cross and Air Force Cross citations reviewed for upgrades due to anti-Semitism. Shemin, who is Jewish, performed actions that were worthy of the Medal of Honor, according to a Distinguished Service Cross recommendation in the family’s possession.

Shemin-Roth’s efforts included contacting the Jewish War Veterans of the United States of America and a congressman for help. Eventually, they saw the passage of the William Shemin Jewish World War I Veterans Act in 2011, which allowed Shemin’s case to be resubmitted for review. Four years later, Shemin-Roth is to receive the Medal of Honor on her father’s behalf. He is the first member of the storied 4th Infantry Division to receive the nation’s highest honor for actions during World War I.

The Army News Service contributed to this report.

Watch it

• What: Medal of Honor ceremony.

• When, where: 11:15 a.m. EDT Tuesday, White House.

• Of note: The Medal of Honor will be posthumously awarded to Sgt. William Henry Johnson and Sgt. William Shemin for their actions during World War I.

• Live feed: https://www.dvidshub.net/webcast/6491#.VWh740aOmAM

NCO to posthumously receive Silver Star, Polish medal for heroism

Staff Sgt. Michael H. Ollis will be awarded the Silver Star posthumously at a ceremony later this month for his heroism earlier this year during an insurgent attack in Afghanistan.

His parents, Robert and Linda Ollis, will receive the award Oct. 24 at Fort Drum. Ollis, a 10th Mountain Division Soldier, will receive the honor for his actions while defending Forward Operating Base Ghanzi in eastern Afghanistan on Aug. 28.

According to Combined Joint Task Force-101, Ollis charged toward attackers that had breached the base in a “three-pronged attack.” He stepped between a Polish officer and a suicide bomber who was part of a “three-pronged attack” that breached the base. When the insurgent detonated his vest, the officer was shielded from harm. Ollis, however, was killed. He was 24.

Staff Sgt. Michael H. Ollis previously deployed to Iraq, from April 2008 to May 2009, and to Afghanistan, from June 2010 to May 2011. Ollis deployed with his unit to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom in January 2013, and was killed Aug. 28, 2013, defending Forward Operating Base Ghazni. (Photo courtesy of Fort Drum Public Affairs)
Staff Sgt. Michael H. Ollis previously deployed to Iraq, from April 2008 to May 2009, and to Afghanistan, from June 2010 to May 2011. Ollis deployed with his unit to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom in January 2013, and was killed Aug. 28, 2013, defending Forward Operating Base Ghazni. (Photo courtesy of Fort Drum Public Affairs)

Poland is scheduled to honor Ollis with the Polish Armed Forces Gold Medal on Nov. 8 in New York.

Ollis’ parents recently spoke to the Army News Service from their home in Staten Island, N.Y., to discuss their son’s life and accomplishments during a seven-year military career.

“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 his parents 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 noncommissioned 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 shielded, 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 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.

Army News Service contributed to this report.

Staff Sgt. Michael H. Ollis, the godfather to the baby in this photo, poses with family members, including his sister and her baby, and his parents, Linda and Robert Ollis. (Photo courtesy of Ollis family)
Staff Sgt. Michael H. Ollis, the godfather to the baby in this photo, poses with family members, including his sister and her baby, and his parents, Linda and Robert Ollis. (Photo courtesy of Ollis family)