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War on Terror panel honors fallen combat air controller

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POSTED February 13, 2012 12:40 a.m.

Mark A. Forester loved his country.

The depth of that love resonated after his death in combat in Afghanistan when comrades discovered that he had taken an American flag secured under his uniform into battle.

Forester’s dedication to country and his decision to forgo officer training so he could secure a more dangerous assignment on the frontlines as an Air Force combat air traffic controller prompted a Marine colonel returning stateside after serving in the same battle theater to go out of his way to visit Forester’s family in Alabama.

The story so touched Pastor Mike Dillman and the rest of the Memorial Weekend committee that they chose to put Forester’s likeness of the 11th panel along with those who have died serving America in The Global War on Terror since May 2011. That panel will be dedicated during Memorial Weekend ceremonies at Woodward Park that typically draws over 10,000 people to Manteca each year.

In addition to the panel dedication, 2012 will mark the first year for a soldier’s theater. It will consist of a large tent seating up to 200 that will feature hourly multi-media presentations of different soldiers’ stories.

The event will include activities ranging from a 5K run, military flyover, memorial concert, and memorial ceremonies to a car show and more.

The Memorial Weekend event is in addition to the Manteca Chamber of Commerce’s Memorial Day parade and the 2,400 flags volunteers will place along Manteca’s main streets that day.

After receiving the family’s permission to honor Forester, Dillman and the committee discovered that Forester was serving as a missionary in nearby Oakland when the terrorist attacks occurred on Sept. 11, 2001.

The 29-year-old Haleyville, Alabama native received a degree in finance from the University of Alabama in 2006 and enlisted in the Air Force in June 2007.

Despite everyone telling him to go in as an officer, he wanted to enlist because he wanted to start from the bottom up. Forester knew his chances of getting better deployment opportunities would be increased as an enlisted airman. He wanted the toughest job the military could offer, and Air Force Combat Controller was what he was looking for.

He was deployed to one of the most coveted areas by Combat Controllers in May 2010, FOB Cobra. He was awarded the Bronze Star Medal with Valor for his heroic actions while engaged in ground combat against the enemy on Aug. 6, 2010.

Forester was fatally wounded during combat on Sept. 29, 2010. He was posthumously awarded the Purple Heart.


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