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In Memory of Col Zachary “Thrill” Laird

  • Published

Today Team Pope was proud to honor the service and life of one of our patriots, Col Zachary "Thrill" Laird with a Memorial Ceremony held on Pope Army Airfield. Col Laird, an active duty Air Force warrior passed away on 2 May 2023. Today’s Memorial included family, friends, and coworkers providing touching, heartfelt remarks, stories, and spiritual passages. It was supported by the Seymour Johnson AFB Honor Guard and entailed full military honors with a 21-gun salute, presentation of the American Flag to surviving family, a rendition of ‘Amazing Grace’ played on the bagpipes, Taps, and an A-10 ceremonial flyover. While the event today won’t bring him back, it was an fitting tribute to a fallen hero and will help ensure his legacy lives on. In the words of Col Thrill Laird, “I Have No Regrets”.

Born in Houston, Texas on June 12, 1978, Col Zachary Laird received his Bachelor of Science in Russian Area Studies from the United States Air Force Academy in 2001. Following pilot training, he was assigned to Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Arizona as an A-10 pilot. He then served as the Assistant Chief of Wing Weapons for the A-10 at Osan Air Base, Republic of Korea. Zach was later transferred to Moody Air Force Base, Georgia where he served as the Chief of Readiness for the A-10 and then as the Chief of Wing Weapons at Davis-Monthan. Returning to Osan Air Base, he served as the Chief, Master Air Attack Plans.

Zach's next assignment was Chief of Standards and Evaluations and Director of Wing Inspections at Moody Air Force Base. He was then Director of Operations at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada and finally selected as Commander of the 6th Combat Training Squadron. His final assignment was stationed here with us at Fort Bragg (now Fort Liberty), North Carolina. While serving in his capacity as the Director of Fires, Zach led the largest and most ambitious joint fires exercise in JSOC history, incorporating over 60 lift and attack aircraft as well as 4 separate naval surface fires, training over 1,500 professionals. Zach championed the Command’s first ever Joint Fires and Effects Cell, significantly streamlining communication across the battle staff to reach mission results 15% faster.

Zach's awards include the Air Force Achievement Medal, Army Achievement Medal, Aerial Achievement Medal with five oak leaf clusters, Air Medal with four oak leaf clusters, Air Force Commendation Medal with three oak leaf clusters, Air Force Meritorious Service Medal with five oak leaf clusters, Bronze Star Medal, and the Defense Superior Service Medal.

Zach’s post graduate studies include a Master of Military Operational Art and Science from the Air University, Maxwell Air Force Base. In addition, Zach received a Master of Strategic Studies from the Air University, Maxwell Air Force Base. He also graduated from the USAF Weapons School as an A-10 Weapons Instructor.

Zach was immensely respected amongst his leadership, peers, and subordinates and was the embodiment of servant leadership. Through his approachability and kind demeanor, Zach created and fostered an environment of mutual respect and growth where his teammates and peers felt heard. Zach's expertise and efforts were immeasurable to current and future operations within the enterprise.

Outside his professional life, Zach enjoyed tinkering with his Ducati 1198 and Jeep, and reading as much as he could. He also worked in a round of golf whenever possible. Zach was fluent in Russian, and even lived in Moscow his Junior year in High School teaching English as a second language. Zach was a gourmet chef who grew his own herbs and made his own wine. With his passion for cooking, his goal after retirement was to open a restaurant specializing in Cajun cuisine.

Zach is survived by his parents, Carroll and Nena Laird of Gig Harbor, Washington; his brother Aaron Laird, his wife Lindsay and their children Raegan, Austin and Zander of Gig Harbor, Washington; and his sister Katherine Shelton, her husband Ryan and their children Nathan, Landon, Yvonna and Callen of Fairland, Indiana. Zach is also survived by IO aunts and uncles and six cousins.