Sgt. Austin Bieren was honored Saturday at a memorial service at Umatilla High School, the school where he graduated seven years ago.
Bieren, 25, an airman for the U.S. Air Force, died March 28 in Syria, in a non-combat related incident of natural causes. He was there as part of Operation Inherent Resolve against the terrorist group ISIS.
According to Rose Gudex, a public affairs officer with the Petersen Air Force Base where Bieren was stationed, Bieren collapsed while exercising, and was given immediate medical care but died before he could be medically evacuated.
Saturday’s service was packed with Bieren’s family and friends, some of whom got up at the end of the service to share memories about him.
Tracy Finck, Bieren’s mother, recalled her close relationship with her son.
“Austin and I talked all the time,” she said. “If he was down, I’d send him quotes. I just wanted to make sure he was happy.”
Finck read out a list of the medals and honors her son received during his service, and spoke about how proud he was to serve in the military.
“He was an amazing young man,” she said. “He always put his best foot forward. I can’t be prouder of who he was or who he became.”
Mike Mosher, Bieren’s high school football coach, spoke about his former student and friend’s competitive nature and mischievous personality.
“As you got to know him, he opened up,” Mosher said. “And once he trusted you, he’d do anything for you — but you had to earn his trust.”
Mosher said Bieren had considered playing college football, but recalled when he told his coach that he’d changed his mind.
“He said he wanted to be part of something greater than himself, something elite,” Mosher said. “That’s who he was.”
Bieren’s grandmother also spoke at the service, noting that the last time she spoke to her grandson, he asked her to pray for him.
“If I live to be 100, nothing will ever make me happier than that,” she said.
Other family members and friends spoke about fun times they’d had with Bieren, and most mentioned his penchant for mischief when he was younger.
One friend that grew up with Bieren recalled with a laugh the time they torched a bale of hay with fireworks — but all noted how responsible Bieren grew up to be.
“I got to see a troublemaker turn into a hero, and I couldn’t ask for a better friend,” she said.
Bieren’s family also put together a slide show, which showcased Bieren’s happy times. The slide show highlighted Bieren’s love of sports, his adoration of his nephew Jaren, whom his mother called “his pride and joy,” and his love for his wife, Rachel.
At the end of the ceremony, Cameron Smith, director of the Oregon Department of Veteran’s Affairs, presented Bieren’s mother, his wife, his sister Brianne and his father John with flags to honor Bieren.
Contact Jayati Ramakrishnan at 541-564-4534 or firstname.lastname@example.org