Staff Sgt. Michael Ollis had Karol Cierpica's back, and ultimately died saving him.
Cierpica, a Polish army lieutenant, survived a massive insurgent assault at Forward Operating Base Ghazni in Afghanistan in 2013 thanks to the actions of Ollis, who received a posthumous Silver Star for his actions.
Ollis, a Staten Island, New York, native who served with the 2nd Battalion, 22nd Infantry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division (Light) out of Fort Drum, New York, also received the Army Gold Medal from Poland, the highest honor a foreign soldier can receive from the NATO ally.
"We were quite honored. We were very happy for them, but we were also very happy that they honored Michael in such a way," Ollis' father Robert told Army Times.
It was just one of many gestures as the two families have become close. Before Michael Cierpica was born or named, the Ollis family sent a teddy bear to Poland — one made using Ollis' combat uniform by the Matthew Freeman Project, a not-for-profit charitable organization.
Ollis' parents have met Cierpica twice, and they said they are working to arrange for him to visit New York, this time in November to run in the New York City Marathon along with their two daughters.
"We are very excited to get him here. We want to see the baby," Robert Ollis said. "When he comes to Staten Island he will be very, very welcome. There are a lot of people who would love to meet him."
The second time, in Poland, Robert Ollis said was a more relaxed and comfortable visit. There's somewhat of a language barrier, but he said they shared coffee, told some stories and even managed to laugh a little.
They remember Michael Ollis, who was 24 when he saved Cierpica — a man he didn't know — on a fateful August day.
The attack started in the dead of the night, at 3:54 a.m. on Aug. 28, 2013. A 3,000-pound car bomb blew a hole in the eastern wall of FOB Ghazni. Insurgents fired mortar shells, shoulder-fired rockets and hand grenades into the base.
Ollis and Cierpica fired at the attackers, back to back, according to Cierpica.
It was the 10th bomber that would prove deadly. He emerged from behind some containers; Ollis stepped toward the insurgent, blocking Cierpica. The attacker's vest detonated, killing Ollis.
A Polish soldier died in the attack. Ten Poles, including Cierpica, and dozens of Afghans were wounded.
But Ollis stepping up to face a threat head-on was credited with saving Cierpica's life.
Cierpica, for his part, earned a Bronze Star for valor, as did U.S. Army Sgt. Maj. Lester Edwards, Sgt. 1st Class Nate Abkemeier and Staff Sgt. DaRelle LaMarque.
Two Afghan soldiers were honored for rendering safe a second car bomb near the base.
"His story just shows you the character of my son, who always thought of the next guy and never really about himself," Robert Ollis said.
While nothing can bring their son back, the Ollis family said the fact that his name will live on provides a certain level comfort, as does the relationship they've forged with the Cierpicas.
"I think the relationship helps in a way because we know Michael isn't forgotten. So it helps us heal, actually," Micheal's mother Linda said.