Tag Archives: Silver Star

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)

Fallen NCO’s family accepts posthumous Silver Star

By NICK DUKE
Fort Benning Bayonet

The family of Sgt. 1st Class Kenneth Westbrook was presented with his Silver Star for gallantry, and his second Combat Infantryman Badge on April 19 during an emotional ceremony at Derby Auditorium at Fort Benning, Ga.

Westbrook died Oct. 7, 2009, as a result of wounds suffered Sept. 8, 2009, when insurgents attacked his unit in the Ganjgal Valley of Afghanistan.

Maj. Gen. H. R. McMaster (left), commanding general of the U.S. Army Maneuver Center of Excellence and Fort Benning, Ga., presents Charlene Westbrook, the wife of Sgt. 1st. Class Kenneth Westbrook, and her three sons — Zachary, Joshua and Joseph — with her husband's Silver Star during a ceremony April 19, 2013. (Photo by Ashley Cross)
Maj. Gen. H. R. McMaster (left), commanding general of the U.S. Army Maneuver Center of Excellence and Fort Benning, Ga., presents Charlene Westbrook, the wife of Sgt. 1st. Class Kenneth Westbrook, and her three sons — Zachary, Joshua and Joseph — with her husband’s Silver Star during a ceremony April 19, 2013. (Photo by Ashley Cross)

Receiving the award nearly three and a half years after his death, Westbrook’s wife, Charlene, said she felt an immense sense of pride in her husband.

“I would say that I’m so very proud of him, and that he’s my hero,” she said. “Actually, he’d probably grimace and say, ‘No, I’m not a hero. I’m just doing my job.'”

The Silver Star is the Army’s third highest award for gallantry, behind only the Distinguished Service Cross and the Medal of Honor.

When family members received word that the Silver Star would be posthumously awarded, they selected Fort Benning as the site of the ceremony, intending to reflect Westbrook’s love of and dedication to the Army as a whole, but also to the infantry.

“I met my husband when I was 13, and he asked me what I wanted to do for a career after we graduated high school. I said, ‘I don’t know. I’m 13 years old. I’m not thinking about my future,”‘ Charlene Westbrook recalled. “But he, from the very beginning, said, ‘I’m going to be an infantryman.’ He came to basic training here, and this place meant so much to him. He was so proud to have been an infantryman for 22 years.”

The family also took the opportunity to attend a basic training graduation before the Silver Star ceremony.

“It is fitting that we honor the courage and sacrifice of one of our fallen warriors shortly after we gathered to celebrate the entry of new Soldiers into our Army,” said Maj. Gen. H. R. McMaster, commanding general of the U.S. Army Maneuver Center of Excellence and Fort Benning, during his remarks at the Silver Star ceremony. “[It’s] fitting because what those young men and Sgt. 1st Class Westbrook have in common is that they volunteered to answer our nation’s call to duty in a time of war.”

“It is fitting that we are part of a living, historical community in which we do our best to preserve the legacy of courage and selfless service of those, like Kenneth Westbrook who have gone before us,” McMaster said. “Fitting because we want those who knew and loved Sgt. 1st Class Westbrook to know that he will not be forgotten, that we will continue to honor his sacrifice and remember the example that he set for all of us.”

The battle that led to Westbrook’s death occurred Sept. 8, 2009, when a joint force of American and Afghan personnel that Westbrook was working with were caught in an ambush.

According to the Silver Star award citation, while taking fire from rocket-propelled grenades, mortars and machine guns, Westbrook intentionally placed himself in the line of direct enemy fire without cover and concealment in an effort to engage targets and direct his Afghan peers.

Sgt. 1st. Class Kenneth Westbrook
Sgt. 1st. Class Kenneth Westbrook

He was wounded during the battle, but did not succumb to his injuries for 30 days.

Jonathan Landay, a reporter for McClatchy newspapers who was embedded with the joint force, said the scene was one of the worst he had ever seen.

“Within a few minutes, it was just an unbelievable kill zone,” Landay said. “All the guys who were in there had been veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan, and they had never been caught in such hellacious fire. It was coming from three sides.”

Westbrook was preceded in death by his brother, Sgt. Marshall Westbrook of the 126th Military Police Company, New Mexico Army National Guard, who died Oct. 1, 2005, while serving near Baghdad, Iraq.

Charlene Westbrook said the award helped the family to feel like they were still a part of the Army family.

“I just want the Army to know that we’ve been an Army family for 22 years, and when the Army finally gave us this award and it came to light, it almost feels like the biggest family hug we could ever feel,” she said. “It makes me feel proud to be part of the Army family.”

McMaster echoed those sentiments during his remarks.

“To Sgt. 1st Class Westbrook’s family, we will never forget your sacrifice,” he said. “You are forever members of our Army family. We are grateful for the opportunity to be with you and to honor our brother-in-arms. For those of us who have not experienced such a profound loss, it is difficult to imagine what you have endured — the loss of not one, but two Westbrook sons who volunteered to serve their nation and made the ultimate sacrifice.”

Soldier receives Silver Star, re-enlists in the Army

By MASTER SGT. PETE MAYES
101st Airborne Division

Sgt. 1st Class Matthew Loheide received the ultimate two-for-one deal from the Army on April 5.

At a special ceremony at at Fort Campbell, Ky., he was awarded the Silver Star Medal for heroic actions as a platoon leader when he was assigned to the Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 2nd Battalion, 327th Infantry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), during Operation Strong Eagle while deployed to Afghanistan in June 2010.

Sgt. 1st Class Matthew J. Loheide is pinned with the Silver Star medal April 5, 2013, by Maj. Gen. Leslie C. Smith, commanding general of the 20th Support Command, during a ceremony outside the headquarters of the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), at Fort Campbell, Ky. (Photo by Sgt. David Hodge)
Sgt. 1st Class Matthew J. Loheide is pinned with the Silver Star medal April 5, 2013, by Maj. Gen. Leslie C. Smith, commanding general of the 20th Support Command, during a ceremony outside the headquarters of the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), at Fort Campbell, Ky. (Photo by Sgt. David Hodge)

He also showed his commitment to the Army and his fellow Soldiers by re-enlisting moments after receiving his award.

Loheide, who is assigned to the Warrior Transition Battalion at Fort Campbell as an adaptive reconditioning NCO, told reporters after the ceremony that he was humbled to receive the award.

“I’ve often looked at this as kind of a double-edged sword, and I humbly accept this award knowing not only what I did, but also what my men did out there,” he said. “I was never afraid of dying out there as much as I was afraid of failing my men. They were my responsibility and it was my job to take care of them.”

Loheide was flanked by former members of his unit, who offered the highest praise for him.

“He took me in as a young junior officer and showed me what right looks like,” said Capt. Douglas Jones, his former platoon leader.

“I am the product of what they forged,” Loheide said.

Loheide suffered a traumatic brain injury during the conflict in the Kunar Valley of Afghanistan, but was still able to evacuate his other Soldiers to safety despite his own injuries.

“I couldn’t leave my men behind. It’s not in me,” he said.

He said his experiences as a combat veteran are very useful in his current position at the Warrior Transition Battalion.

“From my own experiences, I feel that I can relate to the Soldiers there more than the clinicians can,” he said.

As for re-enlisting, Loheide said that was an easy decision.

“I’ve never left the Army because it’s a part of me,” he said.