A Lexington special operations Air Force officer chose to save the lives of an Army Special Forces team and supporting personnel rather than protect his own, earning him a top military medal for bravery in action.
Capt. Matthew Roland, 27, of Lexington was posthumously awarded a Silver Star, which was presented Tuesday to his family in a ceremony at Hurlburt Field. Two hundred teammates and friends gathered to honor Roland.
When he was killed last August, Roland, assigned to the 23rd Special Tactics Squadron, had two weeks left before he was due home from his third deployment.
For many, Roland was the guy people depended on and looked up to. He was, a teammate said, “the kind of man other men strive to emulate.”
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“His actions on that night do not surprise me,” said Roland’s father, retired Col. Mark Roland. “He was a warrior, a leader and more than that, a servant leader whose first thoughts were for those he served.”
The ceremony included the military’s description of Roland’s final minutes: After a long day of airfield operations on an unsecured landing zone, Roland volunteered to drive the lead vehicle in a convoy of U.S. Army Special Forces on Aug. 26. He was most familiar with the route back to Camp Antonik in the Helmand Province.
He was loved and respected and was good at what he did. As parents, we can think of no greater tribute. Matthew was a true patriot; he loved what he was doing and believed in it.”
Retired Col. Mark Roland
The convoy passed without incident two of three Afghan-led security checkpoints.
At the final checkpoint, Roland parked the bus and left the engine idling as the team’s Afghan translator left the vehicles to obtain clearance to pass.
Two guards, wearing Afghan National Defense and Security Forces uniforms, granted passage, but at that moment, one of the guards moved toward a bunker fortified with a machine gun, while the other moved toward Roland’s driver-side window.
As the guard came within 5 feet of Roland and raised his M-4 carbine rifle to his shoulder, Roland reacted instantly. He keyed the radio to shout, “Insider attack, insider attack!” and jolted the bus into reverse. Gunfire ripped through the steel and glass of the bus’s front, killing Roland instantly.
But his quick actions protected others on the bus and gave the other special operations personnel time to react and eliminate both gunmen, according to the narrative accompanying the medal.
Staff Sgt. Forrest Sibley, 31, Special Tactics combat controller, was also killed.
“In the face of the enemy, some people cower down, and some people step up,” Lt. Gen. Brad Heithold, commander of Air Force Special Operations Command, said about Roland’s actions. “Actions like this take a lot of courage, poured on top of sacrifice, poured on top of intense training.”
Matthew Roland was an Eagle Scout who graduated in 2006 from Lexington Catholic and from the Air Force Academy in 2010 with a degree in aeronautical engineering.
He completed the rigorous Special Tactics training program in 2012 to become one of the few Special Tactics officers in the Air Force. He was trained as a military static line jumper, free fall jumper, an Air Force combat scuba diver, and a joint terminal attack controller, deploying twice to Afghanistan and once to Africa.
Even in his short time of service, Roland was a decorated veteran, earning the Bronze Star medal with V device for Valor. With this Silver Star medal, he joined an elite group of more than 70 airmen who received the nation’s third-highest medal for gallantry in action since September 2011.
“He was loved and respected and was good at what he did. As parents, we can think of no greater tribute,” his father said. “Matthew was a true patriot; he loved what he was doing and believed in it.”