As a chilly wind blew through the open bay doors of Freedom Hangar, the men and women of Hurlburt Field said goodbye to their fallen brothers in arms.
Capt. Ryan P. Hall from the 319th Special Operations Squadron, Capt. Nicholas S. Whitlock, 1st Lt. Justin J. Wilkens from the 34th Special Operations Squadron and Senior Airman Julian S. Scholten, 25th Intelligence Squadron, were killed Feb. 18 when their U-28A was involved in an accident near Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti, located in the Horn of Africa.
“Our hearts ache with sadness,” said Col. Jim Slife, 1 Special Operations Wing Commander, in his speech to the more than 2,000 people assembled to pay their respects to the airmen and their families.
“We will continue to do our duty,” he said, “To do any less would dishonor their memory; to do any more would be impossible.”
In all of the eulogies, friends and commanders spoke about the dedication to duty and their love for the mission that made these four men remarkable. Using words like brilliant, humble, funny, and kind, each told a story of a man who was more than a brother, more than an airman, more than the sum of his parts.
Lt. Col. William Winans, operations officer for the 34th Special Operations Squadron, where Wilkens and Whitlock served, summed up his feelings on his teammates.
“They represented the best of what our country has to offer,” Winans said.
For more of this story, see the March 1 issue of Navarre Press or subscribe online.