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    Air Force salutes airman who died in tragic police shooting

    By Tom Rogan,

    23 days ago

    Senior Airman Roger Fortson was assigned to the Air Force's 1st Special Operations Wing out of Hurlburt Field in Florida . On May 3, Fortson, a black man, was killed in a police shooting at his apartment.

    Body camera video of the shooting shows an Okaloosa County sheriff's deputy being directed to Fortson's apartment by an apartment manager who had complained of a potentially violent disturbance therein (Fortson's family's lawyer says the deputy was directed to the wrong apartment). Video shows the deputy listening outside Fortson's door before knocking. He moves to the side of the door and out of view, a standard police tactic, but does not identify himself as a police officer. The deputy then knocks on the door two more times, each time identifying himself as a police officer and calling on the resident to open the door. Fortson then opens the door with a firearm in his hand pointed downward. The officer quickly draws and fires, leaving Fortson mortally wounded. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement is investigating the shooting.

    Still, we've gained three different leadership examples in the aftermath of this tragedy. One from Okaloosa County Sheriff Eric Aden, one from Al Sharpton, and one from Fortson's commanding officer, Col. Patrick Dierig.

    Sheriff Aden's leadership has been lacking. While he has since met with Fortson's family and pledged a full investigation, Aden's office originally claimed that the deputy had "reacted in self defense after he encountered a 23-year old man armed with a gun and after the deputy had identified himself as law enforcement." The problem here is that it is up to external investigators to establish whether the police shooting was an act of self-defense. By quite literally jumping the gun, Aden has undermined public trust. Aden also left out that his deputy first failed to identify himself before moving out of view of Fortson's doorway. Aden should have spoken to the facts and waited for the shooting investigation to conclude rather than offer spin.

    A better leadership contrast was offered at the airman's funeral last Friday. But it did not come from Al Sharpton, who addressed the grievers remotely. Sharpton attempted to politicize Fortson's death while celebrating his own activism. He then explained how, while he would always be there for Fortson's family, he "just couldn't make flights work" to attend the funeral in person (presumably because no one could be found to pay for first-class tickets ).

    In contrast, Col. Dierig celebrated Fortson's life and service. Addressing a crowd including many uniformed Air Force personnel, Dierig described Fortson as a "man of honor, a man of integrity, a man of courage." Saluting his family, the colonel observed that "we merely polished a diamond that you forged." Fortson, he said, underlined the truth that "if you want to be a great airman, be a great person." Noting Fortson's service as a combat veteran of the AC-130 gunship community, Dierig said "he was a man of honor, he rose above the noise, above division or indifference, and he chose to serve the nation during a time of conflict."


    Dierig then concluded by referencing the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial in Washington, D.C., subtly noting how that memorial encapsulates what military service is ultimately all about. Dierig referenced one inscription on the memorial, "Out of the mountain of despair is a stone of hope." He then told the crowd, "Senior Airman Fortson is a stone of hope. His Air Force legacy is a stone of hope. He inspired us, he will continue to inspire us, and now we all have to be stones of hope to take care of one another. We will be better airmen because of Senior Airman Fortson."

    Fortson lived a life of honor and service. Dierig showed his family and friends that he'll be remembered as such and why good leadership is so important.

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