Anniversary of Staff Sgt. Austin Bieren's passing

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- In the past 12 years of my Air Force career, I have had days which I will remember for the rest of my life. Unfortunately, for myself and the other members of the 4th Space Control Squadron, March 28, 2017 is a day of tragedy that none of us will ever forget.

The 28th represents the date Staff Sergeant Austin Bieren, a member of the 4th Space Control Squadron, passed away while deployed to Syria in support of the 21st Space Wing and Operation INHERENT RESOLVE. For those of you who did not have the pleasure to know or work with him, he was a loyal and loving husband and son. He was a brave and determined Airman. He was a kind and dedicated friend. He loved being outdoors, camping, hunting and hiking. He was also extremely athletic and participated in multiple sports while also being an avid weightlifter at the gym.

Our operations officer was deployed with Austin, and our commander had recently left on an overseas temporary duty assignment. Before he left, the commander sat me down and told me that I would be the acting commander which is often used when there is a dual absence; however, more often than not, it serves as the person simply attending the group and wing level meetings. This charge came just a week before I was scheduled to deploy with a 20+ person unit to another austere location.

After a long day of work, I drove home exhausted and thinking of the endless to-do list. By the time I pulled into the driveway, group leadership called to inform me to report back immediately to the group commander’s office. My hopeful mind thought it was just a tasker that was overdue and needed attention.

When I got there, Col. Endicott, then 21st Operations Group commander and Lieutenant Col. Thien, 21st Operations Group deputy commander had solemn faces. I knew that whatever it was, it was not good.

When Col Endicott told me the news, my face went pale and tears filled my eyes. I know the sorrow I had felt paled in comparison to those that were with him at the time and those that knew him better. The more experienced members in the room offered recommendations for the next steps while we struggled to come to terms with the loss of a beloved member of our team. We alerted the other deployed TDY leaders to organize a scheduled notification in order to limit rumors.

We decided on a Family Assistance Representative to guide Mrs. Rachel Bieren through the difficult time. We talked about the notification process to both his parents and widow. And we discussed the important legal items such as his will, Serviceman’s Group Life Insurance, and Virtual Record of Emergency Data.

When I got home that night, I couldn’t sleep. I tried to think of what I would say to Rachel and the Squadron. There were no right words. No way to give him all of the honor he deserved. No way to fill the void left in everyone’s life.

I was not prepared to look his best friends and family in their tear soaked eyes and tell them everything would be ok. How could it be when such a loss could never be replaced? At that moment, I realized when the Commander charged me with the squadron, it meant a lot more than attending staff meetings…it meant I needed to be there to guide them through the loss, and forge the 172 members into a unified family.

In the course of the last year, I’ve been honored by the way Austin’s family and friends, the squadron, and even all of Peterson AFB has remembered and paid tribute to Austin. Members of the Peterson community lined the streets for his dignified transfer. A memorial service, the way Austin would have wanted, with a hunting theme was held at the Wing Chapel. Many Squadron members wear a memorial bracelet in his honor. At times, his family friends hosted our weekly Roll Call as a way to show just how much we all appreciate each other.

The 21 Operations Group flag football team dedicated the season to Austin’s memory and won the Peterson AFB championship.

When you enter Building 2028 you’ll see his jersey framed in the trophy case. To the left, there’s a wooden plaque in his honor. Further down the hall is a large shadow box for his rotation that contains the flag that was draped over his casket during the dignified transfer along with a picture of him squatting concrete slabs while in Syria.

On March 28, 2018, 4th Space Control Squadron members in garrison, and deployed, past and present will complete the Austin Beer Run Workout of the Day, a workout created and registered through the CrossFit Hero WOD program. If you would like to join, grab your wingman and see how many sets you can do together of 28 Single Arm Dumbell Presses, 25 Goblet Squats, and a 200 meter run with weight… all within 17 minutes. Just don’t let the weight touch the floor! There is a reason for the specific numbers, but the knowledge cost of admission is to join our family for the workout.

As time passes on, the squadron is replaced with new members that did not know Austin. But as you walk through the hallways, it is clear, his spirit will forever be in our hearts.