Sgt. 1st Class Omar Forde, 28, was killed in a helicopter crash in Afghanistan last week while working on a NATO mission. He played football at Kennesaw Mountain High School and is remembered by friends as a family man.
Forde was laid to rest Saturday during a private ceremony at the Georgia National Cemetery in Canton with full military honors following a public funeral service.
Forde was a member of the 1st Combat Aviation Brigade, the 1st Infantry Division, and was stationed in Fort Riley, Kan., before his death. He was killed along with five other soldiers in Now Bahar, which is in Zabul Province, southern Afghanistan, while they were on a NATO mission with the International Security Assistance Force, according to the Associated Press.
He leaves behind his wife and high school sweetheart, Megan, and two sons, Ayden, 5, and Devery, 18 months. The family was stationed at Fort Riley, Kan., at the time of his death, but his mother, Metzi, lives off Cheatham Hill Road in west Cobb.
American flags held by somber residents saluted the arrival of Forde’s body and his family to NorthStar Church in Kennesaw.
People paying tribute to Forde lined the entrance to the church with flags and stood alongside portions of the processional route saluting as motorcycles with the Georgia Patriot Guard Riders escorted Forde to the burial site following the service.
Friend recalls memories
Longtime friend of Forde, Jon Barker, delivered a tearful eulogy at Saturday’s public service recalling his time on and off the football field with Forde.
Forde was a star defensive back on the Kennesaw Mountain High School’s football team. He was offered a scholarship to play football at Morehead State University in Kentucky, but decided at the last minute to join the military instead.
The pair grew up in the same neighborhood and played football together, though Barker said Forde’s athletic abilities surpassed his own.
After playing football together in the neighborhood, Forde convinced Barker to play with him for their middle school team, but Barker would only take to the field twice in the season.
Forde doled out words of encouragement before Barker nervously played on the team for the first time.
“The last voice I remember hearing was Omar yelling, ‘Don’t worry. We’ve got your back,’” Barker said.
The play failed. Barker said jokingly once Forde finished laughing, poking fun at him and the situation, Forde encouraged him not to give up.
“I’d never seen a smile as big as his,” Barker said.
Forde was a dedicated family man, Barker said, that advanced quickly in the U.S. Army gaining seven promotions in eight years. He completed basic training in Missouri and was stationed in several places in the U.S. before his first son was born in Kansas.
Soon after, he was deployed for the first time to Iraq. Forde would serve two deployments in Iraq and his final in Afghanistan.
“As only Omar could, he made light of the situation,” Barker said. “It was supposed to be the easiest of his deployments, nine months instead of three years.”
He “gave so much and asked for so little,” Barker said.
Barker said through tears, “He’s a hero. Let us not forget that freedom isn’t free.”
Community shows support
Nancy Hitching is a member of the Patriot Guard Riders, which honors fallen service members, and turned out in droves to Forde’s funeral.
“We need to let these families know and the community know, not only these that are killed in action … they’re not standing alone,” Hitching said.
Velena Halbrooks, of Kennesaw, said she didn’t know Forde personally but having a son about Forde’s age, 28, makes it all feel personal.
“He did something a lot of people wouldn’t do and that was laying down his life for my family,” Halbrooks said while holding a small American flag awaiting the arrival of Forde’s body and his family.
Pam Younker wants the Forde family to know they aren’t alone.
“My whole thing was the whole community needs to let the Forde family know we support them,” said Younker, a former chairwoman of the Honorary Commanders Association, a Cobb Chamber of Commerce group that honors members of the military and their families.
For Heidi Stentz, of Marietta, saluting Forde’s processional was a way to teacher her 5-year-old daughter, Sydney Lewis, to respect the military.
“My daddy was in the Navy,” Sydney said excitedly while lying on a grassy area awaiting the motorcade.
Stentz comes from a military family and wanted to pay her respects.
“This is the only way I know because I don’t know the family,” Stentz said.