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Hurlburt Field honors Senior Airman Roger Fortson in memorial service

Hundreds of Airmen, friends, teammates, and family members gathered at the Freedom Hanger on May 20, 2024, to pay tribute to Senior Airman Roger Fortson during a memorial service, remembering […]

Family, friends and members of the 1st Special Operations Wing celebrate the life of U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Roger Fortson during a memorial service at Hurlburt Field, Florida, May 20, 2024. (U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Natalie Fiorilli)

Hundreds of Airmen, friends, teammates, and family members gathered at the Freedom Hanger on May 20, 2024, to pay tribute to Senior Airman Roger Fortson during a memorial service, remembering his dedication, selflessness, and service to the gunship and Team Hurlburt community.

  • The service featured several teammates sharing messages and memories, highlighting Fortson’s impact on those who knew him.

Lt. Col. Kaelin Thistlewood, commander of the 4th Special Operations Squadron, addressed Fortson’s family directly, saying, “I can only hope that amidst this pain you can find comfort in the contributions that your son gave and how he is remembered in the military and flying community. His legacy of bravery, his fellowship and friendship and his service will forever be cherished and may bring some measure of peace knowing the impact that he had on all of us here today.”

During the service, Thistlewood posthumously awarded Fortson the Air and Space Commendation Medal for meritorious service while assigned as a special missions aviator with the 4th SOS and presented the medal to Fortson’s mother, Chantemekki Fortson, and father, Roger Wilburn Sr.

Capt. Malcom Lee, an AC-130J Ghostrider Gunship evaluator pilot with the 4th SOS, described Fortson as exceptional in every aspect of his life, from athletics to academics and his role as a special missions aviator.

  • “Roger is exceptional … because even in this tragic event that divided a nation he has managed to bond together our community, our Air Force, and people all around the globe through love,” said Lee.

Following the service, Fortson’s visiting family members toured an AC-130J to better understand his role as a special missions aviator.

According to Senior Airman Collin Courtney, a fellow SMA with the 4th SOS, it was a job he was made to do. Courtney recalled how quickly Fortson absorbed knowledge during training, noting that he was always a fast learner.

During a proficiency check-ride flight, Fortson’s confidence was evident when he grabbed a fire extinguisher from the aircraft wall and handed it to an evaluator.

  • “The evaluator then gave him back a very confused look,” said Courtney. “Roger without missing a beat said, ‘You’re going to need this because I’m going to be on fire answering these questions today.”’

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