Tribute to an American Hero – Mark Forester

First let me say to those of you who read this blog who know Mark, I apologize to you if this is the first time you are hearing the bad news.

For the rest of you who never met him, Mark was one of my very best friends and was stationed at FOB Cobra in Afghanistan as an Air Force Combat Controller embedded with a Green Beret unit. I was able to see him immediately before he left for combat, and had the privilege to do a farewell shoot with his family before he left.

I still do not have all the details of what happened, but my understanding is that Mark and his unit had been fighting for several hours. A member of Mark’s unit, First Class Calvin Harrison, a Special Forces Medic was struck by a sniper, and Mark made the decision to aid and retrieve Calvin. Mark was struck twice, once in the chest and once in the forearm, possibly from the same round, and eventually died of his injuries. I was also told that he died while fighting. Two other members of his squad were also killed. This is all I know right now.

This post is a tribute to Mark, as well as all of the other family members and friends we all have lost fighting for our country. I want everyone know what an absolutely amazing person he was and what a tremendous sacrifice he paid for the freedoms we enjoy. The price is paid with the very best blood our country has to offer and Mark is a perfect example of this.

Of all the people I know, I cannot think of a more kind, generous and well rounded person I have ever met. He was a true friend, slow to temper, always reliable and extremely fun to be around. We spent so much time playing Halo on Xbox that I am sure I will be in some kind of trouble when I stand before the judgement bar. One night, we had played so much that instead of going home, I crawled over to some random corner in his living room and slept there for the night- not even realizing what I was doing. There are so many memories of him working out, playing flag football, going to Chick-Fil-A, talking for hours about women, scuba diving, church, school and just about anything else 2 young men might talk about- all of which I will treasure forever. Any person who does not have a friend like Mark was to me is really getting a raw deal in life.

Mark’s family, including his brother Thad and his parents are as good as they come. My heart is aching for them and I want them to know that my thoughts and prayers are with them, how much I love them as well as Mark. I spent most of the afternoon and evening down by the beach crying & thinking about Mark, and how much he will be missed. On one hand, this is extremely painful and on the other, I cannot express how proud I am of him. We had many talks about the dangers involved- Mark absolutely knew what he was getting into and that there was a chance he may not come back. He went anyway. Brave as hell. I have so much admiration and respect for him. Losing Mark has been a reality check for me, in a good way. I imagine that over the next short period I will be making some changes in my life, mostly for the better, just knowing him and what he gave up. It is a true pleasure and humbling honor to have known him. I miss him so much already and would give anything to have him back. Words cannot express how thankful I am to you Mark and I know I am better person for having known you.

Today, on September 29th, 2010- a great man named Mark Forester paid the ultimate price for you and me, defending and protecting the Great Country of America. Mark is, as so many others are, a True American Hero.

Rest in peace brother and God be with you till we meet again.

“Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” – John 15:13

Mark and I had been emailing each other, here are a few of the pictures he sent to me.Some shots from the Easter Shoot this April right before he left:Found a few more pictures. If anyone out there has any they would like to post here, please send them to me.

These pictures of Mark in the Red shirt were taken by the CCT he replaced at FB Cobra. It was the day after they arrived. He said Mark was excited to get to work. UPDATE Oct 1 Thank you for the links, stories and images, please keep them coming and I can either post them here or forward to family. I understand some of you cannot disclose your name or what you do, but we treasure these last bits of info about him. If anyone has a great story about Mark, please send them my way. I am on my way to Haiti, but will post when I can.

Tuscaloosa News Article on Mark Forester
Destin News
Kyle Defoor
BYU Message Board 1
BYU Message Board 2
Al Blog

UPDATE Sept 30 – I just got off the phone with Thad. Mark’s family is in Dover picking up Mark. He is telling me that if things go smoothly, Mark should arrive in Halleyville on Wednesday evening, and they are hoping for a Thursday service. Thad and Roz will let us know as soon as they know for sure.

Links about and remembering our brother Mark

Tuscaloosa News Article on Mark Forester

Mary and Jay Stubbs Family Blog

Jenny Ennis’ Blog About Mark

AP Image 1 of Mark arriving in Dover

AP Image 2 of Mark Arriving in Dover

Tider Insider Forum Thread About Mark

Combat Controller Blogspot

Mark Forester – Air Force Times

Special Tactics Fourm RE Mark Forester

Mark Forester – Military News

Tracy Pully’s Post About Mark

I will post more information as I get it. Thank you to the many of you who have contacted me and sent me information. To Mark’s brothers at FB Cobra who served with him, I know your hands are tied and you have a job to do, but whenever possible please contact me. We are indebted to you for your service.

If you have any images, videos or anything else of Mark you would like to share, please send them my way. ([email protected]) so I can post them here for everyone else, or perhaps just share them with his family.

If you knew Mark and would like to offer any words to his family or memories of him please feel free to use the comment box below. Thank you. Stories about Mark – Submitted by friends and Family:

“I have been working with Mark for some time here in Afghanistan. I am a pilot in the 101st and I fly Apaches. My Company/Platoon worked A LOT with Mark and I got to talk with him quite often. He was in every way the best controller and soldier we have ever worked with. It was the saddest day for every attack pilot here when he died. We attended his ramp ceremony here and it was quiet, small, but very moving. Mark was a wonderful soldier. He will truly, truly be missed. I have enclosed some pictures he took of us flying around one day. You could always tell where he was because he had two flags flying from his vehicle!! He was a brave man… one time I remember working with him while he was driving around in a golf cart in the middle of Afghanistan! Again a very unique guy that I will never forget. If you have any contact information for his family I would really appreciate it. I have several pilots here that would gladly like to send a letter/email to them. Thank you for making the website. It was neat to see how big of an influence this man really had during his life.” – Apache Pilot would worked with Mark

Another good story… We were overhead one day when two CH-47s were in FOB Cobra off-loading some stuff. Well, I guess one of Mark’s buddies got into an altercation with the crewchief on the 47 and decided to spit in his face!! I got to listen to poor Mark deal with a whiney pilot on the radio who threatened to leave with all the supplies!! I came on the radio and told the pilot to calm down, do his job and drive on. I emailed Mark that night and he just said it was one of the most awkward moments in his time here.

Another time…. he was working a pretty tough situation when we came on station. He was a little…. I guess it would be safe to say stressed out… and asked us to help out. I asked where to and he put smoke out. He then said… that whole treeline needs to go bye-bye. I had a great time working with him. I have a lot of good stories about Mark from here. I can tell you that Mark was without doubt fighting bravely on that day. We are extremely proud of him here. It has been one of the more difficult deaths I have had to deal with here. It sucks not hearing him on the
radio anymore…” Apache Pilot would worked with Mark
The above image was taken on Mark’s camera the same day he and First Class Calvin Harrison, (pictured to the left) were killed.

Arrangements for Senior Airman Mark A. Forester have just been made and are as follows:

Visitation: Wednesday October 6, 2010 from 5:00 to 9:00 p.m. at Pinkard Funeral Home, Haleyville (1308 21st St.,Haleyville, AL 35565)

Service: Thursday October 7, 2010 at 2:00 p.m. at Haleyville High School Gymnasium (2001 20th St., Haleyville, AL 35565) He will lie in state at the school from 1:00 to 2:00 p.m.

Burial with Full Military Honors: Winston Memorial Cemetery (96 County Rd. 36, Haleyville, AL 35565)

From One of Mark’s fellow soldiers

“I’ve been working with Mark at FOB Cobra for the last three months, and he was hands down the best CCT that I’ve ever seen, despite the fact that this was his first combat rotation. To come straight out of the schoolhouse with the level of professionalism and competence that he displayed speaks volumes about his work ethic and the pride that he took in what he did. Because of the nature of my job, I often got to work in close proximity with Mark, and on the mission before the one in which he gave his life, we found ourselves sitting together, just the two of us, on the top of a mountain while the rest of the team gave medical aid to local villagers. During our time on that mountaintop, we talked about our families, our love of our country, and–more than anything–our faith. We spent several hours like this, working and sharing stories of our lives, and then just as we were preparing to leave the village, we began to receive fire from across the valley. Because the enemy fire was dangerously accurate, we ran behind a military vehicle that we had taken to the top of the mountain and took cover. Then, upon receiving the command that we were to leave the hilltop, I told Mark that I was going to run to the front of the truck to gather up the gear that we had left there when we were attacked. As I started to step out from behind the truck, Mark put his hand on my chest and pushed me back, running forward to gather our equipment while bullets struck the ground all around him. When he came back, I was angry. I yelled at him and asked him what he thought that was all about, and he simply told me that it was the right thing to do under that situation. He said that God would approve. That was the kind of man that Mark was, a brave man in the face of danger, one willing to put himself in harm’s way when he saw a chance to protect others, a hero.

Mark was a great man, and during our time working together, where many people compromise their beliefs in one way or another (myself included), I never, ever, saw him act in any way that was not completely consistent with his beliefs, and he was someone that was I honored to call friend–someone I’ll never forget.”

From Debbie, In Memory of Senior Airman Mark A. Forester

Debbie wrote on her blog about Mark, please take time to read her touching story! Thank you Debbie for sharing!

Link to Debbie’s Blog

During the Alabama vs Florida game on Saturday night the United States Air Force performed a Fly Over in Memory of Senior Airman Mark A. Forester.
It was captured on video by many spectators. Four F16s rolled in the missing man formation.

Another video:

From Michelle Paulson: ” This year has been a blur, in January our closest friends had a major life change with a jumping accident and is now a quad. Not sure if Mark had shared this with you, but typical of Mark just like you and everyone has shared was right there. They (Mark and Bobby) walked into my office the day I returned to work and wanted to know what could they do, they had recently moved in behind the Fanning’s in Carolina Lakes. The only thing I could think of was their son Brock needed some attention cause his life was upside down with all the strangers coming around coupled with knowing his dad was hurt. Needless to say Mark was amazing in how he touched the family. Jack was one of Mark’s instructors in Combat Control School in NC and said so many wonderful things to say about him this week, I hope he gets the opportunity to share those stories with the family in some way. If I know Jack he will. You can choose to use these if you like or just keep them for his parents. These photos were a couple of pictures taken of Mark when he was helping the Fanning’s, they are especially sentimental to the Fanning’s and me. The lighter side of Mark Forester.

UPDATE 10-9-10

I was able to attend both the Haleyville and Pope Air Force Base services for Mark. I am preparing to add more files, images and stories now. Lots of images to go through. Each Service will appear as a different post (due to the number of images) but the links will also be added here as soon as they are done.

This is a video which was made by the 21st STS (Special Tactics Squadron) in tribute to Mark. Both services were amazing and I will be sharing my thoughts on both very soon:

Also, I have updated the story of what happened to Mark. There are more details coming, but it is going to take some time to put together in greater detail. There is also some vetting rules and confirmation steps that have to take place, but we do know that Mark was killed while trying to save a fellow solider. The same one pictured with him above, his face was previously blurred out, but now Ive uploaded the original image which was taken with Mark’s camera earlier that day. The other solider is Sgt. First Class Calvin Harrison, a Special Forces Medic.

Here are some links about Calvin’s Services which took place yesterday:

Calvin Harrison Article One
Calvin Harrison Article Two
Calvin Harrison Article Three
Calvin Harrison Article Four

Update 10-17-10

I lay down my weapon
And put on my Beret
To mourn in the loss
Of a great man today
So surreal
Cant believe it
Never seems real
But Can’t ignore it
It’s something i feel
And will always store it
No “maybe next time”
No “see you later on”
Its different this time
I know that you’re gone
There’ll be no more jokes told
No dumb movie quotes
No more screaming “Living on A Prayer”
And missing all the notes
No more smoke filled clubs
You hated that scene
But you always went out
Keeping watch o’er the team
No more Chic-Fil-A Oreo shakes
No more Texas Roadhouse steaks
No more coconut cake
Your Mom loved to make
A short list of things that we’ll never share
But I know you’ll have plenty of the best that’s up there
Finally, now you’re on eternal relaxed grooming
So let that hair grow till its full and booming
And at The Gates as you embrace all your Buddies
They’l all pause to say, “Wow, nice Duggy!”
I can’t speak for all, but my life’s been truly blessed
Of all that I’ve known, you’re the greatest I’ve met
I remember you now as you join all the rest
I say a final HooYah, and WILL NEVER FORGET
I’ll pick up my weapon and as today turns into night
I’ll honor my friend and return to the fight.

I Love Ya Brother,

YKAnyone interested in getting a Print of this Charcoal Sketching can order them from: [email protected] or 919-774-1561, Price is the actual cost of the Print, $12.48 plus shipping.

“I worked with Mark almost everyday during my time at FB Cobra, I have not met a better example of a “Quiet Professional” He was wise beyond his years as everyone who worked with him knew. I usually sat beside him in the back of our gun truck while we were out swapping stories about home and what we would do when we got back. It pains me to know I can never see his shining example of how to be a good soldier, professional, and friend again.  To his family and friends back home; You should know he was one of the greatest warriors and professionals I’ve ever worked with, His passion for his beliefs and his job here were unmatched, He is gone but never forgotten. He was the guy that would go out of his way to help anyone, right up to the end. I hope you find comfort in the fact that he will live on forever in our hearts.   RIP Mark   I love you bro. ” DK

Links and Videos:

UPDATE 10-27-10

“As a previous ground guy, the mission of protecting Mark and his team is my most important mission here in Afghanistan. I only met Mark, in peron, for a few moments on the LZ at FOB Cobra. During that time and the many missions that I flew overhead cover for his team, while working on the radio with him, he managed to make what will surely be a life-long impact on me. We pride ourselves on doing whatever it takes to do everything possible to protect these gifted warriors on the battlefield. This is why the loss of Mark has hit me harder than any in the past. I was overhead that day and unable to prevent this tragedy. I just hope that his family and friends can find some small measure of comfort in knowing that he took the fight to the enemy right until the end. So few in this world can say the same. Rest in peace brother. I’ll see you on the flip-side, BC 20”

Update 11-7-10

Mark Playing Flag Football

Update 11-10-10

I just got this picture of GZ and Mark’s brother David finishing the end of the ruck March done in memory of fallen Combat Controllers. GZ and other CCT’s carried a 50lb backpack from Texas to Florida and also carried a Baton in each of their names. I think it is a beautiful tribute to our fallen loved ones. Mark’s Website is almost complete. I am looking forward to giving all things Mark Forester their own home on the Internet. I will keep you posted.

UPDATE 11-15-10

– New Post- Patriot to the Core

Update: 11-25-10

Mark’s Website is completed. We will be adding all new posts there:

Mark Forester’s Memorial Website

Intermediate Blending of 2 Exposures

I spotted the boats earlier in this morning during my jog and thought I would return to get a nice shot with the sunset. It’s very similar to the sunset blending from last week, but instead of blending at a horizon, you blend along another naturally occurring line, in this case where the edge of the water and beach meet. It requires a little more work, but in some cases, not only is this the best way to do it, it is the only way to do it without doing HDR. Please trust me when I tell you that I have tried these types of shots in HDR and I am often not pleased, in some cases this is faster.

Start off with 2 exposures, again, use a tripod. I like to shoot in LIve View, one exposure is for the sky, the other for the boats. Open both images in Photoshop and create an all black mask to conceal the darker layer. I used the quick selection tool to find the edge for starters, and then did the retouch with a brush. Notice where the mask breaks. Do a quick pop on the sky, adjust the exposure of the boats down a little and thats all there is to it!

Day 348

Today my Dad and I drove all over the island and checked out several beaches. It was a great time, I decided to grab this shot of us near the end of our trip. Have some big things going on, Ill be leaving Maui for a very special trip on Friday, Ill be gone for about 10 days. I am a little reluctant to go, but there is a really great opportunity to do some good, and it feels right to me. I learned my lesson a few years ago to not underestimate chances like this to not only help others, but it is good for me too. There are reasons I do not want to talk about it now, but will post and give as much information as I can on it Thursday night. I’m a little nervous, scared and excited.

More to come.

Maui Essential Guide App

There is a fantastic little iPhone App for Maui visitors called “Maui Essential Guide”- it costs $2.99 and it is absolutely phenomenal. It lists all the major activities on the island, gives a summary, as well as video clips, distance from current location, cost, etc. If you are visiting Maui I cannot recommend it higher simply for convenience’s sake. Maui Essential Guide iPhone App

Now a question I need to ask….how many of you out there would like to come to a Photography Workshop on Maui? The more interest, the cheaper it would be. Not looking for solid commitments, just trying to gauge interest level. I know of at least 4-5 people who have told me they would be up for it. Anyone else?

Sugar Beach and Secret Beach

Thanks to my editor Adam who let me borrow his computer to post these. Should know the severity and resolution of my Mac Book situation on Monday. Here are a couple pics from the last few days. The first is from Sugar Beach, near my pad. It is mostly empty the whole day. I am amazed by this each time I go for a run, walk or just to think. Its starting to feel like my own private beach.

1/320, f8 ISO 100, with a .9 Grad, edited (very slightly) in RAW. Mostly saturation and contrast.This was yesterday- It was at Secret Beach near Big Beach. Although small, this is probably one of my most favorite beaches on Maui. I LOVE it! SO cute! While I am not completely happy with this image, I feel I am making some improvements. It had been raining, so it was also empty.

Base image was exposed at: 1/50, f8, ISO 400. I took a second shot for the Sun on overlayed it. The grad filter wasnt working because of the cloud cover.