Hurlburt Field hosts Ratchet 33 Remembrance Ceremony, honors legacy of aircrew

  • Published
  • By 2nd Lt. Jason Barkey
  • 1st Special Operations Wing Public Affairs

HURLBURT FIELD, Fla. -- The 1st Special Operations Wing hosted a memorial ceremony at the Hurlburt Field Air Park Feb. 17 to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the four fallen crewmembers of Ratchet 33.

On Feb. 18, 2012, a U-28A Draco, tail number 07-0736, call sign Ratchet 33, crashed approximately five nautical miles southwest of Ambouli International Airport, Djibouti. The aircraft was assigned to the 34th Special Operations Squadron here, but was deployed to the 34th Expeditionary Special Operations Squadron at Camp Lemmonier in the Horn of Africa in support of Operation ENDURING FREEDOM.

The ceremony honored the memory and sacrifice of:
 Capt. Ryan A. Hall, 319th Special Operations Squadron
 Capt. Nicholas S. Whitlock, 34th Special Operations Squadron
 1st Lt. Justin J. Wilkins, 34th Special Operations Squadron
 Senior Airman Julian S. Scholten, 25th Intelligence Squadron

U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Sarah Brehm, 34th Special Operations Squadron commander, was deployed to Camp Lemmonier with the U-28 squadron at the time of the crash.
“The four men who gave their lives in service to our country were people I’d flown with, worked with, and knew very well,” she said. “The memory of these four Air Commandos will endure. May we always remember them.”

The guest speaker for the ceremony, U.S. Air Force Lt. Gen. James Slife, commander of Air Force Special Operations Command, was the 1st Special Operations Wing commander ten years ago when the loss occurred. While he mourned the loss of these Air Commandos, he also reiterated the legacy they have left on AFSOC and the U-28 community.

“We collectively remember them as Ratchet 33, but each of them left their individual impacts on our lives, our U-28 community and AFSOC as a whole,” said Slife. “It is no stretch to say the sacrifice, lives, commitment of those four Airmen set the foundation for the nearly 21,000 Airmen in AFSOC to thrive and succeed well into the future. Their lives mattered to the mission a decade ago and they matter today to those who carry on in their absence.”

While the 10th anniversary ceremony attendance was limited due to ongoing COVID-19 restrictions, the families of the fallen Air Commandos were able to attend, and the installation was able to stream the service to the U-28 community around the world.