HURLBURT FIELD, FL (Senior Airman Ryan Conroy) — Nearly 10 months after he was killed in action, Capt. Matthew R. Roland will be posthumously awarded the Silver Star medal, the nation’s third-highest valorous combat decoration, for actions taken before his death Aug. 26, 2015, in Afghanistan.
The medal will be presented during a small ceremony here, June 1, to the family of Roland, who was a Special Tactics officer assigned to the 23rd Special Tactics Squadron.
“America lost a true patriot who loved his family, his teammates and his country,” said retired Col. Mark Roland, father of Matthew. “We are honored that his legacy will be remembered with this medal, but Matt’s sacrifice will always be a reminder of freedom’s costs.”
Roland, 27, a native of Lexington, Kentucky, heroically gave his last full measure to save the lives of his teammates during an insider attack on a convoy he was leading.
Roland was driving the lead convoy vehicle of special operations teammates who had just arrived to a forward operating base as part of NATO’s Operation Freedom’s Sentinel when two Afghan National Defense and Security Forces individuals opened fire on the vehicles.
Seconds before the attack, Roland saw the threat and immediately alerted the convoy with a radio call to allow time to react while moving the bus away from the attackers. Roland did not attempt to protect himself by ducking, but instead knowingly put himself in the line of fire to protect the vehicle occupants. This gave his teammates precious time to react and neutralize both gunmen.
“Matt was a fierce, courageous leader who gave his all for his team and his country. His last actions embody the sort of man he was: full of character and courage,” said Lt. Col. Paul Brister, commander of the 23rd Special Tactics Squadron during Roland’s time there. “Without his swift actions that day, the losses to the SOF community and the greater mission in Afghanistan would have been catastrophic. He is truly a hero.”
Roland had two weeks left before completing his six-month tour.
Staff Sgt. Forrest Sibley, 31, a Special Tactics combat controller, was also killed in the same incident.
Before becoming a STO, Roland graduated from the U.S. Air Force Academy with a Bachelor of Science degree in Aeronautical Engineering in 2010. Upon completing the rigorous Special Tactics training program in 2012, he supervised real-world combat preparedness training of a 35-member team at the 23rd STS.
As a STO, Roland was a ground force commander of a Special Tactics team, and was trained as a military static line jumper, free fall jumper, an Air Force combat scuba diver and a joint terminal attack controller. Roland deployed three times in his five years of service to multiple locations around the globe.
In addition to the Silver Star medal, Roland’s decorations include the Bronze Star medal, Purple Heart, Meritorious Service Medal, Air Force Achievement Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Afghanistan Campaign Medal, Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, and Air Force Expeditionary Service Ribbon with Gold Border.
The Silver Star medal is presented for gallantry in action against an enemy of the U.S. More than 70 Silver Star medals have been presented to Airmen since 9/11, with 35 of those presented to Special Tactics Airmen.
Roland is survived by his parents, sister and niece.