POPE ARMY AIRFIELD, N.C. --
The coolest guy in the room. A knight and a warrior on the battlefield and a highly decorated combat veteran who went to great lengths to mentor to young Airmen. Someone with a quick wit, an infectious laugh and a sense of humor that was “second to none.”
That’s how members of the 21st Special Tactics Squadron described a fallen comrade, U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Forrest Sibley, in a private ceremony here, Sept. 3.
The commander of the 440th Airlift Wing, Col. Karl Schmitkons, and dozens of other Citizen Airmen from the unit who provide C-130 tactical airlift daily to the 21st STS were in attendance to honor one of Team Pope's best and brightest.
Sibley was a combat controller who had recently deployed to Afghanistan in support of Operation Freedom’s Sentinel when he was shot at a vehicle checkpoint at Camp Antonik, Afghanistan, Aug. 26, 2015. He died of wounds sustained in the attack Aug. 27.
During the tribute, Maj. Stewart J. Parker, 21st STS commander, shared his personal memories with the gathered teammates, friends and family members.
He recalled the last time he saw Sibley two weeks ago, as the 21st STS Special Tactics Airmen met before the members of the squadron left for a deployment.
“I’ll never forget Forrest as he passed me on his way to the door, cracking jokes,” Parker said from the podium in the squadron’s hangar. “He slapped me on the back and gave me one of those priceless smiles. ‘We’ll see you soon, sir,’ he said. And then he swaggered out to board the aircraft.”
Sibley, 31, had served in the Air Force as a Special Tactics Airmen since November 2008. In his seven years of service, he received four Bronze Star medals, one with valor for heroism in combat, as well as a Purple Heart for injuries sustained in combat. He was on his fourth overall deployment and third deployment to Afghanistan when he was killed in action. He had been stationed at Pope Army Airfield since 2014.
“We can pay tribute to Forrest by trying to be a little more like him: work hard, but don’t take life too seriously. Laugh a little more. Take time to enjoy the freedom that guys like Forrest have fought so hard to give us,” Parker said. “And if we do that…if we absorb some of his upbeat attitude as a part of our own lives, then not everything we love about Forrest dies along with him.”
One of Sibley’s teammates and closest friends, SSgt Christopher Shaub, described him as “a man with a remarkable soul whose character could not be emulated.”
Shaub said his friend described himself on a professional networking website as someone who works daily to shape the minds of today’s youth for tomorrow’s uncertainty.
“We owe him such a debt of gratitude,” said Shaub. “He is hands down one of the best Americans I have ever known and I’m lucky to be able to call him my friend.”
Several special tactics teammates said Sibley had an appetite for nature and loved to hunt and fish often in the woods of Alabama for days at a time.
Shaub closed by recounting words of wisdom from Gen. George S. Patton, often described as the greatest combat general in World War II.
“It’s foolish and wrong to mourn the men who have died. Rather, we should thank God that such men lived.”
Special Tactics Airmen are U.S. Special Operations' air to ground integration force, enabling global access in hostile or rugged terrain, directing precision strike and executing personnel rescue.
Sibley was supporting Operation Freedom’s Sentinel, which supports NATO's resolute support mission to continue training, advising and assisting Afghan security forces, and to also continue the U.S.'s counter-terrorism mission against the remnants of Al-Qaeda.
As a Special Tactics combat controller, Sibley was trained to survey and establish airfields, direct precision strikes and control air power, all in hostile or austere areas. He was also qualified as a military static line jumper, free fall jumper, an Air Force combat scuba diver and a joint terminal attack controller.
The ceremony concluded with Chief Master Sgt. James Remington perfoming the last roll call in which Sibley was noted as not being present for duty after being killed on the battlefield in Afghanistan.
The roll call was followed by the playing of taps—both tributes left very few dry eyes in crowd.
Sibley was a native of Pensacola, Fla., and is survived by his parents and two siblings.