A couple of grateful servicemen are walking across the dirt roads of Kansas and Missouri to honor one of their own.
Members of the 10th air support operation squadron walk 12 miles each in two-men teams to deliver a Silver Star to the family of a fellow airman killed in Afghanistan.
The airmen left Fort Riley on Saturday headed for the Troy, Ill., home or Senior Airman Bradley Smith. Smith died in action Jan. 3, 2010 while trying to save Senior Airman Michael Malarsie and recovering the remains of three other service members.
“We were serving together on that deployment and the same ambush that I got injured and left blind, took his life,” Malarsie said. “He saved my life. I was taken out in the first I.E.D. blast and rendered completely helpless more or less, I got thrown into an irrigation canal and he and the army medic Brian Bowman jumped in there and pulled me out. Later on in the battle, they both ended up losing their lives in a second I.E.D. explosion."
Now Malarsie makes this journey as a way of saying thanks.
“He’s getting awarded the Silver Star, which I think is the least that can be done for what he did that day. He saved my life and did a lot of other really heroic things and gave his life in the process," he said. "And I’m glad that I can be here to help carry it up there.”
There have been other ceremonies to honor Smith, but this is the first one Malarsie has been able to attend.
“I, because of treatment, had to miss the funeral so it’s an honor for me to be able to come out here and do this and be able to pay my respects to him,” Malarsie said. “This is the first time that I’ve been able to be with the group and pay my respects to him. I wouldn’t miss this for anything.”
Malarsie said he’s glad to have men to walk with him.
“You get used to being blind, but there are some things that I would not be good at by myself. Even a straight stretch of road I’m going to be constantly going side to side.”
Malarsie’s walking his 60 miles alongside Staff Sargeant Andrew MacDonald. “This is actually our second leg and the first one I was just holding onto his elbow, which worked fine, but I had to switch sides , because my arms were going numb, so it’s a learning process for us too” Malarsie says with a grin. “He’s got to be constantly looking down, telling me what’s going on, little inclines or a little hill. He’s trying to keep me on my feet too.”
MacDonald has made the journey before.
“We did it once two years ago. We walked from his gravesite to Ft. Riley and a bunch of us thought it would be a great way to pay tribute to him.”
But the trip isn’t just about honoring their fallen friend. MacDonald also wants to honor Malarsie for his sacrifices.
“My friend Mike Malarsie is a great hero, American,” says MacDonald. “He lost his vision over there and even after he lost his vision kept still trying to stay in the fight. He’s a great guy, great friend, and great sense of humor.”
The men will arrive in Troy on Sept. 8 for the silver star ceremony along with a five kilometer race.
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