A friend, brother, son and Airman, Staff Sergeant Forrest Sibley died in Afghanistan one year ago, fighting for our freedom. Friday marked one year, and to honor him, members from his special tactics unit honored him in the best way they know how.
“When I see them jump, I know this is what Forrest did,” said Suzi Fernandez, Forrest Sibley’s mother, as Airmen came in from a routine jump. “When I see them dive and swim, I know this is what he did.”
Do you believe in coincidence? How about fate?
Air Force Special Tactics Airmen were due for a routine freefall training jump and were able to schedule the parachute on the one-year anniversary of Staff Sergeant Forrest Sibley’s death.
“It was impossible to feel bad when you were around Forrest,” said Lt. Colonel Stewart Parker, U.S. Airforce Commander of the 21st Special Tactics Squadron. Staff Sergeant Sibley was a member of the 21st. “Always smiling, always chipper, always happy.. never had a bad day, and an absolute professional,” Lt. Col. Parker stated.
The 31-year-old decorated airman was on his fourth deployment, third in Afghanistan, when he was killed in action.
“Many guys do like the adrenaline aspect of a lot of the parts of the job,” Lt. Col. Parker explained as a group of quickly drying airmen stood behind him. “He was certainly one of those. He loved to jump,” Lt. Col. Parker explained of SSgt. Sibley.
Members of his unit, the 21st Special Tactics Squadron, jumped from a C-17 Globemaster, 7,000 feet above Pensacola Bay.
“When we were prepping for the jump and getting ready, we were absolutely focused on making sure we had a safe and effective parachute jump,” Lt. Col. Parker said when asked if he was thinking about SSgt. Sibley when he jumped. “Once we convened here at the marina, we started talking about him again and we started thinking about the other reason that we’re here today which is to pay tribute to him at his gravesite here at Barrancas.”
After they took some time to gather at the marina, the unit picked up their rucksacks and began the ruck march to Barrancas National Cemetery. Their backpacks weigh about 50 pounds, serving as a reminder of SSgt. Sibley.
“Once we put those rucks on… that’s heavy weight, that’s a symbol,” Lt. Col. Parker explained. “That’s meaning for some of the sacrifice. It’s nothing compared to what he’s given, but for us to be able to walk over to the grave, I know it will be a very emotional event.”
Several family members joined in the one-mile ruck, including Brent Sibley, SSgt. Sibley’s father. He said his son is a fierce patriot, who would have done anything for his country.
“We always tried to have the father-son talk… before deployment, and he’d always hold his hand up evertime and stop me, mid-sentence,” Brent Sibley said as he choked up. “…and say, ‘Dad, this is what I choose. It’s where I want to be…'”
As the ruck ended, the Airmen and some of Forrest’s friends and family prepared for memorial pushups.
“Just knowing that today was going to be more of a celebration of his life… than anything, and coming with more understanding, and more support than we could have ever imagined.. so it was much better than we could have anticipated,” said Jordan Sibley, SSgt. Sibley’s sister.
They honored their hero, whose love for his country, lives on in his unit.
“I’ll just never forget the smile and the determination that I saw in his eyes,” said Lt. Col. Parker. “I knew that…I just always felt that he was one of our best.”
Hannah Broz, SSgt. Sibley’s girlfriend said the anniversary now holds special meaning in her heart.
“I think it gave us a different memory now when August 26th comes,” Broz said. “We’re able to look back and see this awesome thing that his comrades have done for him.”
Staff Sergeant Sibley died alongside Captain Matthew Roland, a Speical Tactics Officer who was stationed at Hurlbert Field, Florida. Members of Capt. Roland’s unit also jumped Friday in honor of the Silver Star Medal Recipient.