‘One for Capt. Matthew Roland!’: Cadets, Special Tactics Airmen honor fallen Academy grad

  • Published
  • By 1st Lt. Katrina Cheesman
  • 24th Special Operations Wing

More than 150 Special Tactics Airmen and USAFA cadets honored fallen Academy graduate and Silver Star medal recipient Capt. Matthew D. Roland, dedicating a memorial display and completing memorial push-ups in formation here Mar. 30.

"We are honored to share this day with Captain Roland's family, his teammates, and the long line of Cadet Squadron 35 Wild Weasels who stand-side-by side in honoring his legacy,”Maj. Jennifer Alickson, air officer commanding for CS-35, said. Roland was a member of CS-35 while at the Academy. “This memorial display is a physical reminder of our commitment to remember those who made, and will make, the ultimate sacrifice for their nation."

Roland, 27, a Special Tactics Officer assigned to the 23rd Special Tactics Squadron, Hurlburt Field, Fla., was killed when two Afghan National Defense and Security Forces individuals opened fire on a convoy he was leading at a checkpoint in Helmand Province, Afghanistan, Aug. 26, 2015. 

Roland was posthumously awarded the Silver Star medal for giving his last full measure to save his teammates’ lives. Seconds before the attack that ended his life, he recognized the imminent threat of attack and gave his convoy enough time to react to the insider attack with a radio call.

Simultaneously, instead of ducking for protection, Roland put himself in the line of fire by moving the bus to protect the vehicle occupants.

“Human instinct is to take cover. But that’s not what Capt. Roland did that day,” Col. Matthew Wolfe Davidson, 24th Special Operations Wing commander, said. “Those decisions are a reflection of his character, and we want to emulate heroes like this.”

Roland was driving Special Operations team members who had just arrived to the forward operating base as part of NATO’s Operation Resolute Support. He was two weeks away from completing his third deployment in five years of military service.

“Matt remains one of the most excellent human beings I’ve ever met,” Lt. Col. Paul Brister, Roland’s squadron commander at 23rd STS. “Physically, he didn’t just run with the guys; he led them. Intellectually, he understood operational art and military theory beyond his years …And he was compassionate. You could call him from anywhere in the world, and he would drop what he was doing to help.”

Roland graduated in the Class of 2010 with a Bachelor of Science degree in aeronautical engineering, and then entered the rigorous Special Tactics Officer training pipeline to earn the red beret in June 2012.

As a Special Tactics Officer, he was a qualified battlefield commander prepared to lead reconnaissance, strike and recovery missions, as well as a military static-line and free fall jumper, an Air Force combat scuba diver, and a joint terminal attack controller.

“He was a Titan among men,” said Master Sgt. Jared Hodges, one of his Special Tactics teammates. “Capt. Roland’s tactical knowledge was unmatched, whether talking close air support doctrine or how to maneuver a force on the battlefield.”

The memorial display holds Roland’s personal and professional effects, including the helmet and a pair of American flag shorts he wore during his three deployments. The display stands near the dormitory room he lived in during his time in Cadet Squadron 35.

“Matthew was a patriot,” his father retired Col. Mark Roland said, discussing the items within the display. “Every time he left on an operation, he had that folded American flag in his kit with him.”

The memorial display was built to match two other Special Tactics Officers and Academy graduates who were killed in action in 2005, Capt’s Derek Argel and Jeremy Fresques. Now, all three displays stand as a reminder to USAFA and the Air Force of the cost of freedom.

“There’s a duty and responsibility to educate others about a member of our family,” Cadet First Class Terry Lee said of the experience, CS-35 squadron commander. “Capt. Roland is an individual we strive to emulate...It’s powerful to see what happens when you uphold the ideals we are honing here at the Academy.”

After attending a small ceremony highlighting Roland’s impact at the Academy and in the Air Force, members of CS-35 did memorial push-ups for Capt. Roland in front of the Chapel. Led by the Special Tactics Airmen in formation, a unified shout of “ONE FOR CAPTAIN MATTHEW ROLAND,” echoed across the terrazzo in a physical representation of honoring the fallen.

“I will forever miss my leader and my friend,” Hodges said of Roland, his Special Tactics team leader. “Rest easy, brother. Your fight is over.”