Global War on Terror Stories

The following real life stories offer a glimpse into the spirit of the United States Armed Forces. One of the missions of Patriot Park Foundation is to tell the stories of those who fought and continue to fight the Global War on Terror. Stories of bravery and valor in the line of duty as well as the stories of love and sacrifice back home. Patriot Park Foundation welcomes your written stories and photographs as we add selected stories to our web site. Others may be used as we develop the story boards that will surround Patriot Park Memorial Plaza. If you wish to submit a story and or photograph please use our contact us form. All information submitted becomes the property of Patriot Park Foundation.

A Fallen Warrior Among Many

In communities throughout this country, citizens leave their homes and workplaces to stand along roadsides with friends, neighbors, and strangers alike, united in a single purpose. Some hold up flags; some display hand-lettered signs with messages of thanks and remembrance. Others simply stand with hands over hearts as the procession passes by. In this way they pay their respects to our fallen heroes on their final journeys home.

Each warrior has his or her own story of a life lived and a life laid down in service to our country. One such story is that of Senior Airman Mark A. Forester, a man who believed he was put on earth to defend the United States of America.

He wanted to kill terrorists, so he chose to serve at the tip of the spear as an Air Force Special Operations Combat Controller. The bronze star pictured here was awarded for his heroism on August 6, 2010 in Afghanistan's Oruzgan Province. After being ambushed by insurgents, Forester's team was pinned down for eight hours by machine gun and rocket-propelled grenade fire. Not once, but twice, Forester stepped from behind cover and directly into enemy fire to launch smoke grenades to mark the insurgents' position. He directed strafing runs to the target, but the sizeable enemy force maneuvered closer.

As the situation grew more dire, Forester ran through a hail of enemy bullets to reach the front of the team's column, where he could gain a better vantage point of the enemy stronghold. Forester launched more smoke grenades to pinpoint the positions while simultaneously directing two 500-pound bombs onto the target from a flight of F-16s. His actions enabled his team to kill 37 insurgents, evacuate the wounded, and return to base.

The heroic soldier did not live to receive his bronze star. On September 29, 2010, Mark Forester ran back into enemy fire to try and save Sgt. First Class Calvin Harrison, a Special Forces medic who had been shot by a sniper. Forester was shot in the chest and died; he was 29 years old. Sgt. Harrison and another member of their squad died in the battle.

Mark was the youngest of five children and the second to enter the military. His friends and family described him as a kind and gentle man with a strong sense of purpose. He earned a degree in finance from the University of Alabama before joining the U.S. Air Force when he was 26. For his heroism, Airman Forester was awarded the Bronze Star With Valor, which was presented to his parents, Pat and Ray Forester.

Mark Forester was laid to rest in his hometown of Haleyville, Alabama. Four Air Force fighter jets flew across the cloudless sky above the cemetery. One broke formation, rolling heavenward into the blue. Below, there were tears, salutes, and the grateful hearts of a nation.

Reprinted with permission from America's Heroes: Stories From Today's Armed Forces, © Whitman Publishing, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Departing For Home one Final Time

By Colonel Lance Kittelson, Chaplain

In our unit's flight from Kuwait to Iraq a few months ago in the worst of the desert's summer heat, we'd filed into the back of a C-130, crammed cheek to jowl along with a couple pallets of cargo. The sweltering aircraft opened up in the rear of the airframe for cargo, which meant that the heat flooded inside. That day in June it was nearly 125 degrees, and with the addition of the four engines whining away and spewing forth heated drafts of Kuwaiti air, it was much hotter inside. Needless to say, it was pretty close to miserable, but then again that is what the Army, I believe, exists to do and do very well: teach people to live with and thrive in tough conditions.

Now, months later, I was headed back to Kuwait to visit some of our troops, and that called for a nighttime flight. Same aircraft, same conditions, only this time it was much more bearable temperature-wise. Plus, there was a somewhat different clientele on board.

There was one passenger… I didn't know the name by anything other than "HR." The civilian loading us on the plane said, as we loaded our bags and donned our helmets and protective "Improved Outer Tactical Vests" ("Flak Vest" in old Vietnam parlance), that anyone who was uncomfortable with HR aboard the aircraft could request to fly on another plane. No one did, as they had waited long enough for a flight out and knew the uncertainty of the military transport system.

Someone asked the inevitable question: "What is HR?" As a chaplain, I had it figured out, but many didn't. "HR", the civilian replied, "means ‘Human Remains.'" We were flying with a casket aboard.

As a pastor, I've seen a lot of death and a multitude of caskets. I've ridden in too many hearses to count on the way to the cemetery. But this time was unique. I didn't know if it was a soldier or not. Sometimes civilian contractors die in accidents, have heart attacks, or are killed by enemy fire. I guess it didn't matter. In the eerie green light of the darkened aircraft, sitting on my web seating, I glanced back to see the glow off the stainless steel "transfer case" and wondered who back home was at this moment trying to cope as they were notified of their loss, tears streaming, with cries of anguish, desperately hoping, praying that it is somehow a mistake. In my thoughts, it no longer mattered if "HR" was a civilian or a soldier. Death had come to whoever was lying before us in that C-130.

Because of the HR, we didn't go straight to our final destination. We first stopped at the Kuwait City Airport, where the casket would be transferred to the military mortuary-affairs personnel for processing on their final flight across the oceans to home. An American flag hung from the ceiling of the aircraft as everyone, civilian and soldier alike, was asked by the crew to file off the aircraft and form an honor guard for movement to the awaiting cargo truck set to receive the body. In the 3:30 a.m. darkness of the runway parking ramp, a young airman called everyone to attention as six airmen and soldiers lifted the casket and moved from the C-130 to the truck. There was no fidgeting, no complaining at the delay in the flight, just Americans standing in silent respect, civilians with hands over their hearts, soldiers at attention. They stood silently, not for HR, but for a human being, a fellow American, a child of God who had departed this world all too soon in wartime, and whose remains were now about to depart for home one final time.

If there is a lesson in that early morning flight, it is in the dignity and respect those young troops showed for the HR, that this was no mere job for them. The fallen are Americans, and no matter who they were in life or where they were from in death, they would be treated with the greatest and utmost respect, as the fallen deserve. Strangely, that is a comfort for soldiers, knowing that if their time comes, "No Soldier will be left behind," as one of the most important core values of the Army states – that somehow, in some way, sometime, someone will see that they get home one last time.

May God bless that flight crew in that early morning, those young mortuary-affairs troops doing a hard, solemn job with the greatest of dignity and respect, and those Soldiers and civilians who stood at attention in the early morning darkness to render the respect of Americans for an American "HR" whose name is known to God and a grieving family back home.

Reprinted with permission from America's Heroes: Stories From Today's Armed Forces, © Whitman Publishing, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

The Young Marine

By K. Cherry, United States Marine Corps Reserves

In the days prior to the beginning of the Iraqi war, a young infantry Marine was assigned to serve as an Arabic translator and advisor to our battalion. He was a native Iraqi who had immigrated to the United States in the mid-90’s after Desert Storm. His job was to help train the Marines on Iraqi language, society, and culture to ensure that our inevitable interaction with the civilian population was not awkward or embarrassing.

Curious about his story, we asked him how he had come to be in the United States. He told us that when he was a young boy in Iraq during the first gulf war, he had met and interacted with the Marines. He recalled that while passing through his town, the Marines gave out food and candy to some of the local children, and he had been one of them. Being instilled with a sense of awe and purpose from that experience, he said that it was from that point that he wanted to come to the United States and become a U.S. Marine. Now that he had achieved that dream, he articulated how even more meaningful it was for him to be able to travel back to Iraq to help his countrymen by directly supporting the same people who had inspired him years ago.

It was a coincidence that this young Marine was later assigned to our team as a translator when our contract linguist quit shortly after the beginning of the war. The young Marine was in our team’s vehicle when we rode into Baghdad. As we slowly trolled through the crowd of cheering Iraqis, he waved and greeted them in his native tongue. For the Iraqi men, women, and children who were close enough to the vehicle to hear him speak, jubilance turned to utter amazement and disbelief. I and the rest of my team could see the confused but excited look on the Iraqis’ faces as they watched the young Marine speak to them in perfect Arabic and laugh as he cracked colloquial Iraqi jokes in an impromptu standup routine from the back of our canvassed vehicle.

The Iraqis were obviously curious about how a fellow Iraqi came to wear the uniform of a country most thought was only inhabited by white Christians. The young Marine told the star-struck audience his story about his childhood and expressed his hope that he might be able to inspire some Iraqi children as he had been years before. As we slowly made our way through the streets of Baghdad, the young Marine handed out food and candy to the Iraqi children, and we watched the warm smile on their faces, knowing another generation of Iraqi youth had been inspired.

Reprinted with permission from America’s Heroes: Stories From Today’s Armed Forces, © Whitman Publishing, LLC. All Rights Reserved.