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Hundreds at Hurlburt Gather to Remember AC-130J Gunner Killed By Okaloosa Sheriff’s Deputy

In Brief:

  • Scores of airmen, civilians, and contractors attended a memorial ceremony at Hurlburt Field to honor Senior Airman Roger Fortson.
  • The event included a keynote address by Colonel Patrick Dierig, personal tributes from Fortson’s comrades, and a live broadcast for deployed airmen.
  • Senior Airman Fortson was posthumously awarded the Air and Space Medal for his meritorious service and dedication to the United States Air Force.

Scores of airmen, civilians, and contractors descended on Hurlburt Monday morning to pay their respects to Senior Airman Roger Fortson in a common-access-card-only event held at the base. 


So many attended, overflow bleachers had to be set out on the flight line. 


The balance of the 4th Special Operations Squadron, Fortson’s unit, escorted the Fortson family to their seats at the memorial. 


Colonel Patrick Dierig gave the keynote address at the beginning of the event, which the base’s brass hoped would help to heal the airmen of the 4th Special Operations Squadron and beyond. 


RELATED: Family of Slain Hurlburt Airman Retain Services of Civil Rights Attorney.


 The event was broadcast live so that deployed airmen could also watch. The recap is below. 

Sixteen members of the Fortson family traveled from Atlanta, where the family held funeral services for the 23-year-old last week. 

“Senior Airman Fortson raised his right hand to serve his country. He answered the call with honor, professionalism, and confidence,” Colonel Dierig said. He was a great air commando and a great aviator, but he was also a great person.”

Dierig spoke about Fortson’s combat service but also about his personal qualities that made him a standout member of the nation’s military. “Our team of IR commandos will be forever proud to call him one of us.”

Fortson’s Closest Comrades Share Their Grief With Team Hurlburt

After the address by the commander, The Hurlburt Field Honor Guard marched to the front of the assembly and posted the colors as an airman sang the national anthem, releasing a sob of grief on the final note as she sang the word ‘brave.’

RELATED: Body Camera, Facetime Video Reveal More Information About Shooting Death of Hurlburt Airman

Lt. Colonel Kaelin Thistlewood was the first to speak – Fortson’s commanding officer. 

“We cannot ignore the fact that Senior Airman Roger Fortson, an Airman, a son, a brother, a black man, was tragically lost in gunfire involving law enforcement. This really highlights broader societal challenges,” Thistlewood – also a black man in the military – told the audience, “I note this fact, only to acknowledge that his passing weighs heavily on the hearts and minds of many.”

Captain Malcolm Lee, a pilot in Fortson’s squadron, spoke next. He talked about the senior Airman’s excellent testing scores and academic achievements and his high character and friendly personality. 

Fortson’s dear friend Senior Airman Colin Courtney talked about his buddy, schoolhouse classmate, and deployment comrade. “Roger was full of life, love, and an extreme amount of confidence,” Courtney testified to scores of airmen. On one of his evaluations, Fortson grabbed a fire extinguisher and gave it to his evaluator. The evaluator gave him a quizzical look – Courtney remembered. “Roger, without missing a beat, said, ‘You’re going to need this – because I’m going to be on fire answering these questions today.’ That’s the amount of confidence I wish I had a fraction of.”

The ceremony ended with awarding the Air and Space Medal to Senior Airman Fortson. The medal – for meritorious achievement and service to Fortson posthumously. 

Air Medal Citation for Roger Fortson

“Senior Airman Roger Fortson distinguished himself by meritorious service as an AC-130J Special Missions Aviator with the 4th Special Operations Squadron, 1st Special Operations Wing, Hurlburt Field, Florida. During this period, he educated ten judge advocate generals on the capabilities of the AC-130J and the importance of having this weapons system in an area of responsibility to protect lives. Additionally, as a lead gun, he took charge of coordination efforts of the maintenance personnel in order to address a 105-millimeter cannon malfunction and a 30-millimeter gun encoder failure, securing mission success for a special operations commander center on a mission. Moreover, Roger cared for his fellow airmen. He led the unit’s flag program that provided flags flown in combat missions for service members to keep as a token of pride in their dedication and effort to support the mission. Finally, he embraced the Air Force traditions. He was instrumental during the first special operations group change of command. His professionalism, military customs, and courtesies solidified a distinguished and honorable event that was enjoyed by all. The distinct accomplishments of Airman Fortson in the dedication of his service to his country reflect credit on himself and the United States Air Force.”

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