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Col. Patrick Dierig: “Senior Airman Fortson was a man of Honor, Integrity, and Courage”

Air Force leaders honor Senior Airman Roger Fortson at Celebration of Life Ceremony
Col. Patrick Dierig, 1st Special Operations Wing commander, holding the hand of Meka Fortson, mother of Senior Airman Roger Fortson (Hurlburt Field)

On Friday, May 17, 2024, hundreds of Air Commandos from Hurlburt Field gathered in Atlanta, Georgia, to celebrate the life of Senior Airman Roger Fortson, a teammate, friend, and fellow Air Commando. 

  • The celebration of life ceremony was held at New Birth Missionary Baptist Church.

Col. Patrick Dierig, 1st Special Operations Wing commander, spoke about Fortson during the ceremony. He thanked Fortson’s family and friends for the opportunity to honor “a great young man” and expressed that the Air Force family was grieving with them.

Col. Dierig described Fortson as “a man of honor, integrity, and courage,” stating that he lived the Air Force core values of service, integrity, and excellence, not because of his military training, but because of the way he was raised by his family. 

  • “We would love to take credit for making him great, but the truth is, he was great before he came to us,” Dierig said. “The Air Force, we merely polished a diamond that you forged.”
Col. Patrick Dierig, 1st Special Operations Wing commander (left) and Lt. Gen. Tony Bauernfeind, AFSOC Commander (Hurlburt Field)

Dierig highlighted Fortson’s combat experience, noting that he was a combat veteran who had served in Iraq and Syria as a member of the AC-130 gunship community. For his efforts, Fortson was awarded the Air Medal with a combat device in 2023. Many of Fortson’s squadron mates from the 73rd Special Operations Squadron and the 4th Special Operations Squadron were present at the ceremony.

Meka Fortson (left) and Lt. Gen. Tony Bauernfeind, AFSOC Commander (Hurlburt Field)

Col. Dierig shared a personal story about his first encounter with Fortson, recalling the young Airman’s infectious smile and welcoming demeanor.

“I first met Senior Airman Fortson after I arrived at the base as a wing commander, and I tried to sneak quietly into my old squadron, his squadron, the 4th SOS, where he happened to be at the door,” recalled Col. Dierig. “And before words were spoken, we locked eyes. And he had that infectious smile and he welcomed me back home without a word spoken. And that was Roger: kind, confident. A smile that can light up the room.”

He emphasized that Air Commandos wanted Fortson on their team not only because of his skills as an aviator but also because of his character.

  • Quoting the inscription on the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial in Washington, D.C., Col. Dierig likened Fortson to a “stone of hope,” saying, “Senior Airman Fortson is a stone of hope. His Air Force legacy is a stone of hope. He inspired us. He will continue to inspire us.”
Source: Hurlburt Field

Lt. Gen. Tony Bauernfeind, AFSOC Commander, also spoke at the ceremony, expressing his grief and the collective sorrow of the Air Commandos worldwide. “To the Fortson family, on behalf of 21,750 Air Commandos throughout the globe defending our great nation, we are grieving with you,” he said.

Lt. Gen. Bauernfeind emphasized the importance of Fortson’s service in defending the nation and compared him to the “giants” upon whose shoulders the Air Force stands. “Unfortunately, Senior Airman Fortson was taken away from us too soon,” he said. “But know, as we move forward, Senior Airman Fortson will always be in our lives. He will always be in our hearts.”

Col. Dierig concluded his remarks with a pledge: “We will be better because of him. I will be a better Airman. We will be better Airmen because of Senior Airman Fortson. He was respected as an Airman. He was loved as a person, and we will never forget him.”

Source: Hurlburt Field

The officer-involved shooting of Senior Airman Roger Fortson on May 3, 2024, has sparked ongoing investigations by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the State Attorney’s Office.

Fortson’s family and their attorneys have called for transparency and a thorough investigation into the use of deadly force.

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