HURLBURT FIELD, Fla. — More than 1,000 family members, friends and teammates from around the country gathered here Sept. 14 to honor and remember two special tactics Airmen who were killed in action last month in an insider attack.
As the procession of family members departed the memorial, nearly 2,000 Air Commandos lined the roads and saluted to honor Capt. Matthew D. Roland, from the 23rd Special Tactics Squadron, and Staff Sgt. Forrest B. Sibley, assigned to the 21st Special Tactics Squadron. Both were killed Aug. 26 at a vehicle checkpoint near Camp Antonik, Afghanistan.
"There are no words, lessons (or) themes that could properly memorialize Matt and Forrest," said Lt. Col. Paul Brister, the 23rd STS commander, at the memorial service. "They both lived lives bigger than that. The best way we can memorialize them is to live life with as much zeal, humor and love as they demonstrated in theirs."
Roland, 27, a special tactics officer and team leader, was a qualified special operations battlefield commander who had deployed three times in his five years of service. Roland graduated from the U.S. Air Force Academy in 2010 and completed the rigorous special operations training pipeline in 2012. He was a native of Lexington, Kentucky, and is survived by his parents and sibling.
"Matt was anything but typical," Brister said. "On the battlefield he was a lion — lethal, precise, humble and compassionate. He was always flawless. I'm convinced I learned more from him than he could ever learn from me."
Roland lived to protect his teammates, said Master Sgt. Jared Hodges, assigned to the 23rd STS.
"He was our leader, mentor and brother," Hodges said. "His biggest fear was letting (us) down."
Sibley, 31, a combat controller stationed at Pope Army Airfield, North Carolina, had deployed four times to numerous sensitive locations in his seven years of service. For his commitment in the face of consistent danger, he received four Bronze Star medals, one with the Valor device for bravery against an enemy of the U.S. in combat. He was a native of Pensacola, Florida, and is survived by his parents and siblings.
Capt. Michael Bain, the 21st STS director of operations, said Sibley was a selfless man.
"Men like Forrest run toward the sound of chaos," Bain said. "He cared more about others than himself."
Staff Sgt. Bob Sears said Sibley was an incredible warrior, friend and teammate.
"We are hurting for Forrest and Matt, but they will never be forgotten," Sears said. "We will never stop talking about them."
As tradition dictates, during the memorial service, there was a final roll call to account for special tactics Airmen. When Roland's and Sibley's names were called three times with no response, Airmen responded they were no longer present to report for duty, as they were killed in action.
After the conclusion of the ceremony, service members lined to salute the two battlefield crosses representing both Airmen, which were a pair of boots, a rifle, their special operations berets and dog tags. Special tactics Airmen also tacked their flashes, or special operations insignia normally found on their berets or uniforms, next to the battlefield cross, to honor their fallen comrades.
Following the memorial, hundreds of special tactics Airmen saluted Sibley's coffin, draped in an American flag, as a FA-20 aircraft completed the dignified arrival before his interment at a local cemetery.
Both Airmen will be interred at military cemeteries with full military honors at a later date.