A legacy of valor: Mark A. Forester

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Kevin Bray
  • 334th Training Squadron
Senior Airman Mark A. Forester is an American Airman. He was killed in Afghanistan while attempting to save a wounded comrade. On Sept. 29, 2010, at 3:06 p.m., in the Uruzgan Province of Afghanistan, Forester organized his special operations element to assist a fallen teammate, Army Sgt. 1st Class Calvin Harrison. Through a hail of bullets, he confronted the enemy combatants attacking his team, was struck by gunfire and drew his last breath.

Just three years earlier, Forester was a student in the combat control operator course at Keesler. He has no streets named after him or physical memorials here, but rest assured his example lives in the hearts and minds of the staff who helped forge him, the combat control trainees who aspire to live up to the example he set for all of us and, most of all, his special operations teammates who continue to fight our enemies. He will be memorialized here at Keesler.

Senior Airman Mark Forester is a warrior. He joined the Air Force at age 26 after graduating from the University of Alabama and trained to be a U.S. Air Force combat controller. What he wanted most in life was to get married and start a family, but he was compelled to protect our freedom and fight our nation's enemies. With many options as a college graduate, he chose to enlist in the toughest; most dangerous and most decorated-for-valor career field in the United States Air Force. He volunteered for and deployed with a special operations task force as their joint terminal attack controller. A volunteer many times over, he consciously sought the path he was on and excelled on every leg of the journey. Senior Airman Mark Forester answered our Nation's call.

Senior Airman Mark Forester's mission is to fly, fight and win. He did not fight for his own glory, but from his deep commitment to walk the path his God had chosen for him. Mark did not delight in violence and killing, but found deep satisfaction in protecting his teammates, serving his country and fighting evil. He was hand-picked for the toughest, most dangerous location in Afghanistan for his first deployment, because of his extraordinary joint terminal attack controller skills. Forester was not only faithful to a proud heritage; he personified it. He lived a tradition of honor and has become a legacy of valor. Forester was posthumously awarded the Bronze Star with Valor and the Silver Star for his heroic actions in Afghanistan.

Senior Airman Mark Forester is a guardian of freedom and justice, our nation's sword and shield, its sentry and avenger. He put his life's plans on hold after the events of 9/11 to defend our freedom. Mark chose the most physically, mentally and intellectually challenging career field where he excelled in training as a distinguished graduate and in combat as a special operator. Forester defended our country with his life.

A true wingman, leader and warrior, Forester consistently put himself in harm's way to protect his teammates. His leadership affectionately compared him to the sheepdog described by Army Lt. Col. Dave Grossman as one "who stands silent and alone in the night to get between the flock he loves so much and the wolves that are bent on their destruction."

In training and combat, Forester was known as a servant leader uncompromising on his principles, true to his upbringing as a Latter Day Saint and true to our Air Force Core Values. He never left an Airman or teammate behind. He never faltered and he never failed. On the battlefield, he courageously fought our enemies with boots on the ground where he could see the white of their eyes. During his time in Afghanistan, Forester exposed himself to enemy machine gun and sniper fire in order to identify enemy positions and coordinate close air support on a regular basis. In his final battle when a teammate was wounded, he confronted our enemies under heavy fire without hesitation. Forester gave his life to save a friend and made the ultimate sacrifice for a grateful nation.

When Mark was recovered, medics found a bullet had narrowly missed his body armor and pierced an American flag he wore.

"Afghanistan was insanely hot; but that didn't stop Mark from wrapping a full size American flag around the front and rear plate of his body armor prior to the mission. This was not a standard procedure, but then there was nothing standard about Mark Forester," according to "My Brother in Arms: The Exceptional Life of Mark Andrew Forester, United States Air Force Combat Controller," which was authored by his brother Thad Forester with Mathew Glencoe. (T. Forester & M. Glencoe, p. 3). Forester is the epitome of an American Airman.

I, for one am inspired by and faithful to the proud heritage, tradition of honor and legacy of valor Forester set for all of us. He was a student in the combat control operator course here in 2007. Forester provides a vivid example on the importance of our training and support missions. We do not simply provide technical training, we build Airmen of character and our process is not more important than the purpose. Our Airmen can and will see some of the most dangerous places on the face of the earth within a couple years of finishing their time at Keesler. We all must give 100 percent to each Airman in training or Airman with a capital "A," so they will be prepared when our nation calls. We demand their best and they deserve our best in return.