A man to emulate: Honoring a fallen Special Tactics Officer

  • Published
  • By 1st Lt. Katrina Cheesman
  • 24th Special Operations Wing
Capt. Matthew D. Roland was the guy people depended on, turned to, looked up to. He was, to quote a teammate, “the kind of man other men strive to emulate.”

He was a “man’s man” who could fix or build anything. He was the guy who “could fit in any crowd” and “lead any team.”

This is how Roland was remembered as he was laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery with full military honors, Sept. 18, 2015.

More than 100 family members, teammates and service members attended the service to honor Roland here, a special tactics officer assigned to the 23rd Special Tactics Squadron at Hurlburt Field, Fla.

Roland, 27, a native of Lexington, Ky., had two weeks left before completing his six-month tour in support of Operation Freedom’s Sentinel when he was killed from wounds sustained in an attack at Camp Antonik, Helmand Province, Afghanistan, Aug. 26, 2015.

Staff Sgt. Forrest Sibley, 31, a combat controller, was killed in the same incident and was buried with full military honors earlier this week in Pensacola, Fla.

Although the death of a service member is always a loss to the country, teammates recognize the gaping hole he leaves behind, this man who could seemingly do anything.

“I envy his talent and his skills,” Capt. Ben Self, a fellow STO and pipeline teammate, said of Roland. “But the attribute that stood out to me most was his unflinchingly stoic presence when we needed it most.”

From the beginning of his Air Force career, he was known for his incredible fortitude in difficult situations. Classmates from the U.S. Air Force Academy recall him as a rock during stressful times; he was the guy who remained cool under pressure and supported those who weren’t.

He was also known as a dedicated and focused individual; by junior year of college, he set his sights on becoming a STO. To accomplish this, he committed himself to rigorous preparation before his Academy graduation in 2010.

Once assessed and selected into the STO pipeline, he completed the two-year training program, which included military freefall, combat dive school and advanced special operations training.

Throughout his special tactics training, Roland continued to be someone that Airmen of all ranks looked to for motivation and inspiration.

“I was his team leader, but oftentimes those roles would shift as I would seek his council and sound advice,” said Self. “I relied on Matt when times were toughest, and I will continue to do so as his memory lives on through all of us.”

Roland was assigned to the 23rd STS once he graduated from the Special Tactics Training Squadron as a qualified STO trained to integrate air power into special operations ground missions.

There he was an assistant team leader within the squadron, leading a group of pararescuemen, combat controllers, tactical air control party, and special operations weathermen, before growing into the role of the primary battlefield ground commander for that team.

“Matt Roland was a unique officer; he was unmatched when talking military strategy, and would surprise senior leaders with his knowledge,” said Master Sgt. Jared Hodges, his team’s enlisted leader who served directly with him at the 23rd STS. “As a team leader, he cared for the men and loved the mission. All he wanted was to take the fight to the enemy.”

This dedication to country and mission was honored during the ceremony when his family was presented the carefully-folded American flag.

Before the casket was lowered, Special Tactics members honored Roland with one final salute and stamped their flash, or their Special Tactics badge found on their beret or uniform, onto the casket.

“[Roland’s] legacy will remain, and the lives he touched will forever be influenced,” Self said, “I will miss him, and we will never forget him.”

Roland is survived by his parents and sibling. He also leaves behind the entire Special Tactics community of active-duty operators, combat mission support and retired Special Tactics Airmen and families.

“The men of Special Tactics will forever remember,” Hodges said of his leader, “the titan that was Matthew Roland.”