A former teacher and coach of Air Force Capt. Matthew D. Roland, one of two airmen killed Wednesday in Afghanistan, remember the Eagle Scout as "a born leader" who "certainly stuck out" for his motivation and dedication.
"He was such a young guy who had so much to give to the world," said Tim Wiesenhahn, cross-country coach at Lexington Catholic High School. "It's tragic."
Roland, 27, and Staff Sgt. Forrest B. Sibley, 31, of Pensacola, Fla., were shot and killed in their vehicle near Camp Antonlik in Helmand province, the Air Force release confirmed in a news release.
Roland was a 2006 graduate of Lexington Catholic and a 2010 graduate of the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo.
Carrie Roberts, a teacher at Lexington Catholic, said Thursday that she taught advanced-placement physics to Roland and wrote a letter of recommendation in support of his effort to get into the Air Force Academy.
"He was a really smart kid," Roberts said. "Very trustworthy, respectful, dedicated, motivated. He was a quiet kid, and sometimes those are the hard ones to remember. But he certainly stuck out."
Roberts, 42, has taught at Lexington Catholic for 15 years. She said the news of Roland's death "was numbing."
"We were in the teachers' lounge, and I just had to stand there a while as it sunk in," she said. "It's difficult to think that somebody who went to an academy, which you usually think of as safe, and one of your students, much younger than me, gave his life for his country. I believe he was a hero. Anybody who was willing to give up their life for my freedom deserves all of our thoughts and our prayers."
Wiesenhahn, 48, the cross-country coach at Lexington Catholic, said Roland was "a born leader."
"He really wanted to be successful," Wiesenhahn said. "I like to say he was driven to succeed. You just kinda knew he was going to be a leader. ... The best runners really work at it, and Matt wanted to be successful, and he put in the work."
Wiesenhahn said Roland "followed directions really well. I mean, I could give them stuff to do, him and Clint Roberts, who I think was the senior captain that year, and I could trust them to follow directions and lead the team."
Survivors include his parents, retired Air Force Col. Mark Roland and Barbara Roland. Roland's sister, Erica, is a public defender in Lexington.
Roland was a special tactics officer at the 23rd Special Tactics Squadron in Afghanistan. After completing the rigorous special tactics training program in 2012, he was a team leader who supervised real-world combat preparedness training for a 35-member team. He deployed three times in his five years of service to multiple locations globally.
"The losses of Matt and Forrest are a terrible blow to everyone who knew them," said Col. Wolfe Davidson, 24th Special Operations Wing commander. "These two combat controllers were incredible warriors who not only volunteered to join our nation's Special Operations Forces, but earned their way to the tip of the spear in defense of our nation."
A man wearing an Afghan security force uniform opened fire Wednesday inside a base in southern Afghanistan, killing the two U.S. airmen in what appeared to be the latest "insider attack" to target foreign troops or contractors in the country.
NATO said two men in Afghan uniforms were shot in return fire and were wounded, correcting an earlier NATO statement that had said two gunmen attacked the Americans before being shot dead.
NATO said the gunman opened fire on a vehicle carrying international troops inside the base in Helmand province. Afghan authorities suspect that the shooting occurred during an altercation.
NATO did not identify the base where the attack took place.
Taliban insurgents have been known to wear Afghan police or military uniforms to stage attacks on international troops. Others have opened fire apparently on their own accord, including an Afghan soldier who last year killed Maj. Gen. Harold J. Greene, the highest-ranked U.S. officer to be slain in combat since 1970 in the Vietnam War.
The shooting is the third insider attack on foreign forces this year. In January, three American civilian contractors were shot dead at Kabul airport by an Afghan soldier, who also was killed. In April, an American soldier was killed by an Afghan soldier inside the governor's compound in eastern Nangarhar province.