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I Got The News Today (IGTNT) , which is among the oldest continuous series on Daily Kos,  provides members of this community a venue to pay their respects to those who have died as a result of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.   The IGTNT  title is a reminder that nearly every day the family of an active duty service member receives the terrible news that their beloved has died.

~ IGTNT Candle logo created by Timroff

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Honoring and Remembering:
Captain Ryan P. Hall
Captain Nicholas S. Whitlock
1st Lieutenant Justin J. Wilkens
Senior Airman Julian S. Scholten

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The Department of Defense (DoD) announced the deaths of four airmen who were supporting Operation Enduring Freedom.  They died February 18 when their U-28 aircraft was involved in an accident near Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti, Africa. The cause of the accident is under investigation.

The four were Air Force Special Operations on a mission over east Africa when their U-28 plane crashed as it was on its return to Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti.  Captains Hall and Whitlock, Lt Wilkens and Sr Airman Scholten died in the crash.  Their home station was Hurlburt Field, Florida which is located in the Florida panhandle near Fort Walton Beach.  

Spokeswoman for Hurlburt Field, Amy Oliver, reported that there was "no indication of enemy fire" associated with the crash.  She confirmed that the crew had been on a mission that "had to do with ISR" -- ISR refers to intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance for special operations forces on the ground. As the plane returned to Camp Lemonnier, a hub for special operations in pursuit of terrorists in east Africa, "the tower saw smoke coming from the aircraft".  There was no visible identification into the cause of the crash which is still under investigation and Pentagon Press Secretary, George Little said:

This is obviously a tragic incident.  There is absolutely no indication of any kind of enemy involvement in the downing of the plane.
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The U-28 is a small retrofitted commercial plane which is indistinguishable from a civilian plane, especially from high in the air.  It carries a suite of sensors and cameras crucial to the mission and does not need a long runway.  It can, in fact land on dirt and grass which furthers the appeal for unconventional forces.  

The men reportedly had not been at Lemonier for long as Air Force special operations deployments typically last two months.  The DoD deferred the announcement until Monday which is a typical delay for notification of family members.  The deaths were announced as supporting Operation Enduring Freedom, although the crash occurred thousands of miles from Afghanistan.  In the past, troops who have died in other locations have been similarly listed as supporting the Afghanistan war.

At a news conference Monday at Hurlburt Field, Col. Jim Slife, commander of the 1st Special Operations Wing said the men were less than 12 miles from their base when the crash occurred. He said the squadrons at Hurlburt were small, close knit groups and that a memorial service to be held on the base is in the planning stages.

They train together, locally. Unlike many places where units tend to be fairly isolated, units here tend to be very knitted together.

Memorial services help our team at Hurlburt and the families work their way through the grieving process. It's the beginning of closure in dealing with your own grief.

 ~ Source   ~ Source   ~ Source   ~ Source
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Capt. Ryan P. Hall, 30, of Colorado Springs, Colorado

Ryan Hall entered the Air Force in 2004 and received his commission, as well as a degree in history from The Citadel.  As a cadet there Hall was a squad leader, a platoon sergeant and active with the Lutheran Campus Ministry.  While in his senior year, Ryan served as the Delta Company executive officer making him the number two ranking cadet in the company.  He was also a member of the Summerall Guards and quite active in the Air Force ROTC unit.

Hall's roommate at The Citadel and Delta Company commander, David Barrett said Hall's training assignment with the MC-130 aircraft was what got him interested in special operations.  

He was incredibly outgoing, fun, sarcastic, liked to hang out, did not matter who with or where. He’s my best friend – there’s not one thing I will remember that I can narrow down to. I will remember a lot.
Hall is the 16th alumnus of The Citadel and third member of the Class of 2004 to die in action associated with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Robyn Patterson, a Fort Walton Beach friend of Ryan's remembered him fondly with several quotes:

Ryan was young; vivacious, lots of life, big kidder. He was funny, a life of the party type, but when it came to his career he was all business.

He could have done anything he wanted to do, and honestly, he just wanted to be happy. He wanted to be happy, he wanted to enjoy life, enjoy his family, and just live.

Captain Ryan P. Hall was on his seventh deployment and had logged more than 1,300 combat flight hours.  

Capt. Hall's awards and decorations were: Air Medal; Air Achievement Medal; AF Achievement Medal; Meritorious Unit Award; Combat Readiness Award; National Defense Service Medal; Afghanistan Campaign Medal; Iraq Campaign Medal; Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal; Global War on Terrorism Service Medal; Armed Forces Service Medal; Air Force Expeditionary Service Ribbon with Gold Border; Air Force Longevity Service; Small Arms Expert Marksmanship Ribbon; Air Force Training Ribbon; NATO Medal.

Funeral arrangements for Hall are pending.

 ~ Source   ~ Source   ~ Source
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Whitlock
Capt. Nicholas S. Whitlock, 29, of Newnan, Georgia

Whitlock comes from a large family that has been in Coweta County for generations.  His grandfather was the public works superintendent for Coweta County for decades and his grandmother is a leader in church and civic activities and comes from a family in Coweta since 1848.  

"Nick" was a 2001 honors graduate of Newnan High School where he played both football and baseball.  His brother, James said:

He was just an incredible athlete.
Nick and James have been long time volunteers with  Alaska's Healing Hearts, a non-profit organization that offers a year-round nationwide outdoor program that focuses on taking disabled military veterans on hunting, fishing and other outdoor activities.

Whitlock was an Eagle Scout and earned a private pilot's license at Falcon Field in Peachtree City prior to entering the Air Force in 2006 and attending Officer Training School at Maxwell Air Force Base.  He was later selected for pilot training in the Euro NATO Joint Jet Pilot Training Program at Shepard Air Force Base.  He earned his wings in 2008 and was assigned to Special Ops at Hurlburt Field.

Captain Whitlock earned a bachelor of business administration at Mercer University and a masters from the University of Florida.

He met his wife, Asheley Oddi of Savannah at Mercer and the two were married in November of 2010.

Several moving comments have been posted on an online condolence book for Nick Whitlock:

Our entire family is so saddened by this loss. Nick was a fine young man who pursued his passion and was courageous whether it was on a baseball field or in the sky. Our prayers go out to the Whitlock family. May they find comfort knowing Nick is now wrapped in God's arms and although he is not here physically he will always be here with us spiritually.
My prayers go out to the Whitlock family. I haven't seen or spoken to Nick in close to 10 years, so it is a testament to the kind of person he was that I am so heartbroken for his wife and family. I will continue to pray that you may find a peace that only God can give you.
Our hearts are broken for you. We watched Nick and his brothers grow up. We prayed for James as he was deployed, we rejoiced as he returned safely. We were happy for Nick as he pursued his love of flying and service to our country. Nick's presence will always be felt in our community through his family and his ultimate sacrifice. Words cannot express the sorrow and gratitude we extend to Clare, Jimmy and his brothers. As a Nation, we are indebted to those who have chosen to defend the freedoms of not only our Nation, but other countries as well. May God comfort you.
Captain Nicholas S. Whitlock was a U-28A pilot on his fifth deployment with more than 800 combat flight hours to his credit.

His awards and decorations were the Air Medal and the Air Force Achievement Medal.

The Patriot Guard Riders have Capt Whitlock on their "confirmed missions" list.

~Source   ~ Source   ~Source

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1st Lt. Justin J. Wilkens, 26, of Bend, Oregon

Justin Wilkens was home schooled in Bend and was a 2009 Air Force Academy graduate where he well on his way to becoming the leader everyone thought he'd be.

Justin was the youth commanding officer at the Civil Air Patrol which is where Kalon Pluma met him:

He was an extraordinary guy who lived life to the fullest. I believe he had his pilot’s license before he had a drivers license. It was his life.
One of Justin's instructors at the High Desert Soaring Club, Brad Stankey recalled fond memories of their time together:
One thing I'll remember about Justin is, he never wore shoes. He always wore flip-flops or sandals, and even when he came home from leave, once he was out of his military boots, he was right into his flip-flops. So we were always giving him a hard time about being in the airport with no shoes.

He was very intelligent, very friendly, very trustworthy and reliable -- the kind of young person who would be very impressive to everybody. There were those of us in the glider club that were sure he was going to be a general some day.

Captain Justin Wilkens served as combat systems officer and was on his third deployment.  He had been with the 34th Special Operations Squadron at Hurlburt Field since April of 2011 and had amassed more than 400 combat hours.

Brad Stankey remembered their last flight together just this past Christmas:

He had so much ahead of him, and that's the tough part. He came out to the airport, and him and I flew together during Christmas -- and that ended up being our last flight together. We didn't know that it would be. We figured we'd have many more flights.

Sometimes when we'd be flying, we'd get joined up by hawks and eagles, and they would come over and fly with us.  And that's one of the best memories I have with Justin -- being able to fly with these birds in our bird and getting up close to them. And that's an experience I'll never forget with him and now he's soaring with the eagles.

Justin Wilkens is survived by his father, Dr, Jim Wilkens; mother, Sharon; older sister Brittany; younger sister Cameron; younger brother Jason; and both sets of grandparents.

 ~Source   ~Source

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Senior Airman Julian S. Scholten, 26, of Upper Marlboro, Maryland

Julian Scholten enlisted in the Air Force in 2007.

Senior Airman Julian Scholten was a mission systems operator and had been assigned to the 25th Intelligence Squadron at Hurlburt Field since 2009.

County Executive Rushern L. Baker III issued a statement on Tuesday noting that Julian is the first Prince George’s resident killed in action during Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan.  He said his "thoughts and prayers" are with Scholten's family and friends.

Senior Airman Scholten’s selfless service and ultimate sacrifice to the country will not be forgotten by Prince George’s County. He, like all of our active, reserve and veteran service members, is a reflection of the best of our citizenry.
The following are comments left on an online news report of Justin's death:
These guys were some of our best. I'm eyewitness (as an uncle) to Justin having lived with honor. He has now died with honor. As our country receives the bodies back home, we as family are in grief that words do not capture.
Julian was one of those guys that wouldn't let you have a bad day, he brought joy, happiness, and laughter to those around him. I'm proud to say I knew him. R.I.P. brother.
Julian, I couldn't ask for a better Wingman, Peer, and Friend. It never mattered how awful my mood would be, I could come into work, see that God-awful, superb, and distinguishing moustache that hung over a goofy grin and I knew the day would turn out ok. Pal I wish I could've taken you up on that apple, banana and two things of Peanut Butter. You're forever on my mind and in my heart. I miss you everyday and I promise that I've got it covered on this end. Rest now, you're "wheels down". I love you man. Prayers to Diamond and his family. My heart is broken for you. I'm proud to have known him.
R.i.p. Julian you will be truly missed...
All my thoughts go out to Julian's family. He served with honor and distinction, and his name and legacy will live through the men and women who had the honor of serving alongside him. Rest in peace, brother.
Senior Airman Justin S. Scholten had more than 900 combat hours in six different airframes and was on his third deployment.

 ~Source  ~ Source

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About the IGTNT series:

"I Got the News Today" is a diary series intended to honor, respect, and remind us of the sacrifice of our US troops. Click here to see the series, which was begun by i dunno, and which is maintained by Sandy on Signal, noweasels,  monkeybiz, blue jersey mom, Chacounne, twilight falling, joyful, SisTwo, SpamNunn, TrueBlueMajority, CalNM, Wide Awake in Kentucky, maggiejean,  Kestrel9000, TheFatLadySings, Ekaterin and me, JaxDem. These diaries are heartbreaking to write, but are an important service to those who have died, and show our community’s respect for them.

Diaries about the fallen usually appear two days after their names are officially released, which allows time for the IGTNT team to find and tell their stories.

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Any Soldier  – (Marine, Sailor, Airman or CoastGuardsman) Provides detailed information on sending care packages or cards and letters to deployed service members.

Books For Soldiers - View requests for and send troops books, DVDs, games and relief supplies.

Fisher House – Provides a “home away from home” for military families to be close to a loved one during hospitalization for an illness, disease or injury.

Homes For Our Troops – Building specially adapted homes for our severely injured veterans at no cost to the veterans.

National Coalition for Homeless Veterans – The VA estimates 107,000 veterans are homeless on any given night.  There are ways to get involved or donate at the link.

Netroots for the Troops (NFTT) – This non-profit raises money for the assembly, mailing and delivery of care packages to American military in war zones.

Special Operations Warrior Foundation - Provides full scholarship grants and educational and family counseling to the surviving children of special operations personnel who die in operational or training missions and immediate financial assistance to severely wounded special operations personnel and their families.

USA Together - "It's like craigslist for Wounded Warriors". Brings together injured service members who need assistance as they recover, with the people who want to help them.  

Veterans Green Jobs - Helps transition veterans into their communities and find career opportunities in environment sustainable sectors of our economy.

Welcome Back Veterans - Committed to providing Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) treatment to our veterans and their families in a public/private partnership

Wounded Warrior Project - Their vision is to foster the most successful, well-adjusted generation of wounded warriors in this nation's history.

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Please bear in mind that these diaries are read by friends and family of the service members mentioned here. May all of our remembrances be full of compassion rather than politics.
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