TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — It takes just one visit to Mark Forester’s website to know he was a proud University of Alabama alumnus.
Along the site’s masthead, Forester is dressed in Air Force combat gear and a UA ball cap. The photo, taken during one of Forester’s combat deployments, is the perfect snapshot of him doing what he loved: defending freedom and representing his alma mater.
Senior Airman Forester, a former combat controller in the Air Force, was killed in combat in Afghanistan while trying to rescue a comrade Sept. 29, 2010.
Forester’s bravery and valor are now commemorated with a bronzed bust of his likeness on UA’s campus.
Forester’s bust, designed by fellow UA alumnus and retired Marines Corps Col. Lee Busby, was unveiled Wednesday at the Office for Veterans and Military Affairs, where it will remain on display.
Members of Forester’s family joined UA veterans and Busby for the unveiling.
“We just appreciate the University for being willing to do this,” said Thad Forester, Mark’s older brother. “There’s already a portrait here [at the VMA], but to have the bust here is an absolute honor.
“It’s always a powerful experience to see someone honoring Mark in some way.”
Mark earned a finance degree at UA in 2006 and enlisted in the United States Air Force in 2007. He joined the Air Force Combat Control Teams (special forces) to get on the battlefield and have a greater role in the country’s fight against terror.
Mark was assigned to the 21st Special Tactics Squadron, Pope Air Force Base in North Carolina. He was killed roughly a month before he was scheduled to return stateside. Mark was 29. He was awarded the Silver Star, Bronze Star (with valor) and Purple Heart, among others.
Mark’s memory had previously been commemorated at UA through the Campus Veterans Association’s Mark Forester Memorial Award For Excellence, given annually to UA’s most outstanding student veteran.
Thad, who maintains The Mark Forester Foundation website and operates the “Patriot to the Core” podcast, said he’s continually surprised by the outpouring of thanks his family receives for Mark’s service.
“We still get comments or likes on Facebook or on the site,” Thad said. “People send private messages about something they learned reading the book, or they saw his story on TV and expressed their appreciation or condolences. There are people who say, ‘I joined the Air Force to become a combat controller because of Mark,’ or ‘I joined the military because of Mark.’”
“We’re very grateful that so many people are doing so many unique things to recognize those who have given all.”
Busby, who sculpted the bust of Johnny Micheal Spann, the first Alabamian killed in combat in Afghanistan in 2001, said he chose the Forester project because Mark was a UA graduate. Busby met with Thad three times to review photographs and refine Mark’s features before sending the bust to be cast at UA’s foundry.
“Every once in a while I get a new picture I haven’t seen, which is always moving,” Thad said, “but the 3D aspect was kind of draining. And then to look and really get the detail of his features, things you never noticed before – I had to ask mom about some of it. Lee even used a close-up picture of my ears as a reference.”
The University of Alabama, the state’s oldest and largest public institution of higher education, is a student-centered research university that draws the best and brightest to an academic community committed to providing a premier undergraduate and graduate education. UA is dedicated to achieving excellence in scholarship, collaboration and intellectual engagement; providing public outreach and service to the state of Alabama and the nation; and nurturing a campus environment that fosters collegiality, respect and inclusivity.