(WXXV) It's a very rare friendship formed more than a decade after a United States Airmen rescued a little girl from hurricane Katrina's devastation.
He drove from where he's stationed in San Antonio, Texas to Hancock County, Mississippi over the weekend to attend her junior military ball Saturday.
To understand how very special this reunion is...you have to know their story.
Michael Maroney was a pararescue jumper, flying over New Orleans picking up survivors in the devastating aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
That's when he saw a little girl standing in pink way down below
"And when she smiled at me I was like woah! Because I was having a horrible day butt I mean, she was having a worst day but she was still smiling!" said Master Sargent Michael Maroney.
Then 3-year-old Lashay Brown had been stuck for three days without food or water before Micheal pulled her and family members up to safety..
"When I got her mom up, her mom was scared. Lashay rubs her mom's back and says it's ok mom, we're safe now. And she wasn't just talking to her mom she was talking to me," Maroney said.
Micheal has a deep military background and the US Air Force Reserve Master Sargent. Has also battled PTSD.
One moment with Lashay--Micheal says changed his life.
And somebody just happened to take a photo of it.
"And she wraps me up in this hug and all my pain went away. My heart didn't hurt. My head didn't hurt. Nothing hurt and it felt good," said Maroney.
And that good feeling stuck
"I wanted to know how it turned out so I started looking for them and found nothing," Maroney said.
Michael searched for the little girl in this picture for 9 years until he found her. They reunited just a month after the tenth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina.
"We met on the TV show "The Real." I really seen him, and it was true and I started crying," said Lashay Brown.
Lashay, now fourteen--has kept in close touch with her rescuer. Micheal drove with his family from San Antnio to accompany Lashay to her junior ROTC ball in Waveland, Mississippi Saturday.
Lashay says Micheal's influence in her life has inspired her to want to join the military.
"He helped me a lot with physical training and stuff, he gives me tips on how to keep running because we do a lot of PT and all that. He means a lot to me. He's more like a family member than a friend," Brown said.
At the ball, Micheal gave a speech and received a special honor...but his greatest award...the little girl's hug and friendship that blossomed out of devastation.
"If she needed a heart or a lung I would give that to her. I mean that's how important her hug, her family is to me," said Maroney.