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Father of fallen Fort Drum soldier recounts son’s heroism

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The father of a Fort Drum soldier killed last week in Afghanistan said that his son was proud of his service, and that his son’s superior officer praised his effort during the battle in which he lost his life.

“He said he was a brave man, and saved a lot of lives,” said Robert E. Ollis, father of Staff Sgt. Michael H. Ollis, recounting what he was told by the commander of his son’s battalion.

Sgt. Ollis was an infantryman in the 2nd Battalion, 22nd Infantry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division. Mr. Ollis said he may have to wait a few weeks before he can learn the full report of what happened that day, and about his son’s actions.

The 24-year-old Staten Island native was killed in Ghazni Province on Aug. 28 during what the Military Times described as a complex Taliban attack on a NATO base, which also injured 10 Polish soldiers and dozens of Afghans. The report said the attack, which included an improvised explosive device, was an attempt by the Taliban to take advantage of soldier departures.

Mr. Ollis spoke to the Times by phone Wednesday afternoon from his home in Staten Island.

Before his deployment, Mr. Ollis said, his son was picked as a squad leader, a role he took seriously.

“He said, ‘I have a big responsibility now,’” Mr. Ollis recalled his son telling him. “‘I have to make sure they get home.’”

Sgt. Ollis joined the Army in August 2006, at the age of 17, with the permission of his father and his mother, Linda Ollis.

“I really felt this was something he really wanted,” said Mr. Ollis, who served in the Army from 1967 to 1969. “A lot of people told Linda and I we were crazy. Why not show the support for your child?”

Mr. Ollis said his son relished the Army life, taking as many special training courses as he could. During the deployment, Sgt. Ollis signed up for an additional six-year Army commitment.

Sgt. Ollis loved the Sackets Harbor area so much, his father said, that he told his father he hoped to retire there after his Army career.

Mr. and Mrs. Ollis were informed of their son’s death while they were on vacation in London, with a member of the American embassy calling their room, then coming to their hotel a few hours later.

“We kind of knew it. We basically knew what was going on,” Mr. Ollis said. “We didn’t want to believe it.”

Told of his son’s death, Mr. Ollis said, he went numb.

“I wasn’t there to help him,” he said.

Rushing back to America, Mr. and Mrs. Ollis were able to meet their daughters, Kimberly and Kelly, and other family members at Dover Air Force Base, Del. Since then, Mr. Ollis said, his family’s emotions have been a “roller coaster ride.”

“Our mornings are sad times,” Mr. Ollis said. “We take turns crying and holding each other. We’re each telling each other that we’re here for each other.”

Among Sgt. Ollis’s career awards are the Bronze Star, an honor his father was awarded for his service in Vietnam, four Army Commendation Medals, two Army Achievement Medals, the Valorous Unit Award, the Meritorious Unit Commendation and two Army Good Conduct Medals.

Mr. Ollis said his son also was proud of earning membership in the 10th Mountain Division’s Sgt. Audie Murphy Club, an elite group named for the highly decorated World War II soldier. Admission to the club requires multiple recommendations and extensive testing.

“That was Michael,” Mr. Ollis said. “Anything he wanted to do, he did it 100 percent.”

Mr. Ollis said he was grateful for the time he had with his son.

“It was a wonderful 24 years,” he said. “I looked forward to many, many more.”

The Ollises have seen a large outpouring of support in the days since Sgt. Ollis’s death, and on Wednesday they had two special honors: Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo directed that flags across the state be flown at half-staff, and a candlelight vigil was held at the Great Kills Veterans Memorial in Staten Island in the evening.

Mr. Ollis said the support has been overwhelming.

“What we came home to is unbelievable,” he said. “If America was like this small little community we live in, we would be good; we would be a happy country.”

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