Hurricane Katrina left thousands of people throughout the southern state of Louisiana with nothing, just like the Brown family, who lost everything they owned twelve years ago when the natural disaster swept it all away.
But lucky for them Master Sergeant Mike Maroney of the U.S. Air Force saved their life when he was able to airlift them out.
Now twelve years later, the memory and news around Katrina has faded. But LaShay, a toddler that shared a special hug with Sergeant Maroney moments after he saved her and her family’s life over a decade ago, is now reliving that time again as a teen.
Days after the hurricane came in and Maroney saved the young girl, he began looking for her and her family and actually spent countless hours doing so for over a decade. And unfortunately on his own he had no luck even after he started a social media campaign using the hashtag #Katrinagirl. But when he was a guest on “The Real” show in Sept. 2015, the co-hosts all had a surprise for him and that was an on-air reunion with LaShay. The show had set them both up, so they would meet again and exchange another hug.
During the first moments of talk show, Maroney shared with LaShay that, that day, “You rescued me more than I rescued you,” at the time, the service man was battling PTSD and just needed a reason to keep going. For the next few years, even though he couldn’t find the young girl, he kept the photograph of their hug and that kept him going through his tour in Iraq and Afghanistan.
So after the two met, they just had to keep in touch for both of their sakes. In the past two years, they have kept up with the relationship. LaShay has had weekly phone calls with Moroney and he’s gone down on different occasions to visit the Brown family in Mississippi.
The 14-year-old told PEOPLE in an interview that Moroney’s support has been instrumental in her life. Saying that because of him, she has made plans to join the Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (JROTC), a pre-training program sponsored by the U.S. Armed Forces at a local high school in Mississippi.
Explaining that her decision to join JROTC was “very interesting and a challenge” because “I had never done it before. I knew if I joined I would have help from Mike along the way if I needed it, or was confused about anything.”
And over the weekend, Maroney celebrated with the family once again, when he escorted the teen to her JROTC ball.
Tomorrow on the Ides of March we are having SuckFest 2017 0900 Warhawk Gym 1100 Skylark Pool 1200 Ft Sam Outdoor Pool Come join us Bring your water water gear running gear and a smile So this picture is from my last trip to see LaShay But guess what, were going this weekend to her JROTC Ball with her in Waveland MS We’re very excited! !! Hope all is well for you
— Stacey Cato (@MsSippiQueen) March 20, 2017
Maroney saying,“I’m going because I would do anything to repay the hug to LaShay and her family. They mean as much to me as my own.”
Adding that, “I am proud of her no matter what she does and will support her in everything she does” And “I think she understands service and I believe that she will do great things no matter what she chooses.”
Also using his experience with the teen to help him reach out to others. Saying, “Life in service to the planet is important whether serving in the military or as a teacher, nurse or volunteer. Service makes life that much more appreciated.”
Maroney will be retiring from the Air Force at the end of March.
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