Cannon honors Ratchet 33

U.S. Air Force photo: Senior Airman Whitney Amstutz U.S. Air Force Air Commandos from Cannon Air Force Base, N.M., begin a six-mile memorial ruck march, Feb. 18 at Cannon’s Unity Park. The march was conducted in honor of Capt. Ryan Hall, Capt. Nicholas Whitlock, 1st Lt. Justin Wilkens and Senior Airman Julian Scholten, the aircrew members who lost their lives when “Ratchet 33”, a U-28A, crashed in Djibouti, Africa, Feb. 18, 2012.

U.S. Air Force photo: Senior Airman Whitney Amstutz
U.S. Air Force Air Commandos from Cannon Air Force Base, N.M., begin a six-mile memorial ruck march, Feb. 18 at Cannon’s Unity Park. The march was conducted in honor of Capt. Ryan Hall, Capt. Nicholas Whitlock, 1st Lt. Justin Wilkens and Senior Airman Julian Scholten, the aircrew members who lost their lives when “Ratchet 33”, a U-28A, crashed in Djibouti, Africa, Feb. 18, 2012.

By Senior Airmen Whitney Amstutz
27th Special Operations Public Affairs

Members of the 27th Special Operations Wing completed a ruck march and flag-folding ceremony, Feb. 18 at Cannon Air Force Base to commemorate the anniversary of “Ratchet 33,” a U-28A that crashed in Djibouti, Africa Feb. 18, 2012.

A thorough investigation concluded that the aircrew, based out of the 1st Special Operations Wing at Hurlburt Field, Fla., fell victim to spatial disorientation and was unable to identify Ratchet 33’s position in the air. The aircrew was comprised of Capt. Ryan Hall, Capt. Nicholas Whitlock, 1st Lt. Justin Wilkens and Senior Airman Julian Scholten.

“The purpose of the ceremony was to honor those lost on Ratchet 33, which went down in the Horn of Africa on this day two years ago,” said Capt. Nathanael Smith, 318th Special Operations Squadron executive officer. “Also, we wanted to make sure the families of the men we lost know that we haven’t forgotten the sacrifice they made.”

Assigned to the 34th Expeditionary Special Operations Squadron at Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti, the crew departed the Ambouli International Airport to accomplish a combat mission in support of a Combined Joint Task Force. Having accomplished their objective, Ratchet 33 and its crew reentered Djiboutian airspace uneventfully and requested entry into the pattern at AIA. Due to other traffic, the crew’s request was denied and Ratchet 33 was redirected to the southwest for descent.

Despite seemingly coherent communication between the aircrew and Air Traffic Control at AIA, something went awry aboard Ratchet 33; just five nautical miles shy of their destination, the aircraft crashed, killing all four service members instantly. The loss echoed throughout the AFSOC community.

“As a member of AFSOC, the significance is to remember the legacy of the men who have gone before us,” Smith said. “It also becomes a reminder that the business of protecting this country is inherently dangerous.”

Their backs weighted with ruck sacks, dozens of airmen completed the six-mile trek to pay homage to their fallen brothers in arms.

“We had a great turnout and incredible support from various units around Cannon which helped the memorial to be a great success,” Smith said. “It just shows that in AFSOC we are a big family, and when we lose one of our own it affects the whole community.”