HURLBURT FIELD, Fla. -- Senior Airman Mark Forester had an American flag wrapped around his chest plate inside his body armor when he was fatally wounded by an enemy sniper's fire Sept. 29, 2010.
This simple act is a testament to how Forester lived his life, a life respected by all who knew him.
Forester, a combat controller assigned to the 21st Special Tactics Squadron at Pope Field, N.C., was posthumously awarded the Silver Star on June 15 in a ceremony at Hurlburt Field, Fla.
The Silver Star, the third highest combat medal, is awarded for gallantry in action against an enemy of the U.S. while engaged in military operations involving conflict with an opposing foreign force.
The medal was presented to his parents, Ray and Pat Forester of Haleyville, Ala.
Forester, 29, was killed in action while moving to the aid of a fallen teammate during an assault of an insurgent safe haven in Uruzgan Province, Afghanistan.
His courage on this mission led to the elimination of 12 insurgents and capture of a significant weapons cache.
Air Force Special Operations Command Commander Lt. Gen. Eric Fiel said Forester embodied the Air Force core values of integrity first, service before self and excellence in all we do.
"Though he cannot be here to accept this recognition and probably would have shunned the attention if he were, we honor and document his heroic actions in the presence of his family, his teammates and his friends," Fiel said. "We commit his actions forever to memory as is due a true hero and brother-in-arms. He will be remembered, as we remember all heroes, who have the greatest valor driven from deep dedication to our nation and our way of life."
Members of the special tactics community came from across the country by the hundreds to witness the presentation and to pay respects to their brother, their role model and beloved friend.
Forester had a monumental impact on Staff Sgt. Johnnie Yellock, a close friend and fellow combat controller assigned to the 23rd Special Tactics Squadron at Hurlburt Field, Fla.
So much so that Yellock maintains frequent contact with the Forester family and travels to Alabama each year to spend Thanksgiving with them, a practice he started with Mark Forester before he died.
Yellock, who was injured in an IED explosion in Afghanistan last year, respected Forester for walking the walk.
"Mark always stuck to his morals. Mark was one of those people who would keep everybody in line," Yellock said. "You always looked up to him. He had unwavering character, charisma and morals that his parents obviously instilled in him from a young age."
Thad Forester also credited his little brother for being a standout. He said he was both humbled and honored to see he served as a role model to so many.
"Mark really was unique, and he had such high character and consistency in values that this is what should happen," he said. "We should honor people who are good examples."
Thad Forester said his family has been trying to learn everything they can about the time his brother spent in the military. He said he finds himself imagining what happened in his brother's last battle.
The Mark Forester he goes back to, however, is not wearing a scarlet beret or a special tactics kit.
"Most everyone sees pictures of Mark in uniform, but I picture him more as my little brother," he said. "He was my best friend and my roommate in college."
After accepting the award on behalf of his son, Ray Forester acknowledged the outpouring of love and support from his son's second family, the special tactics brotherhood.
"It has been a tough almost two years, but I want to thank each of you for being there, for supporting us," he said. "And I especially want to thank the special tactics community. What a family it is."
Thad Forester also thanked special tactics for remaining steadfast alongside their family.
"From the very beginning, from the very first notification and visit, they told us 'we will be with you every step of the way,'" he said. "Honestly, it sounded like something anybody would say, but it's true. The special tactics community has been right by our side."
Students at the Special Tactics Training Squadron at Hurlburt Field, Fla., walk by Forester's picture each morning as they enter the building, and they work out each afternoon beneath a portrait of him drawn by a teammate that hangs in their gym.
His presence is a constant, reminding old and new generations of combat controllers of the ultimate price of freedom.