- The Washington Times - Monday, February 20, 2012

The Pentagon announced Monday the deaths of four Air Force special operators whose utility plane crashed Saturday in the East African nation of Djibouti.

Killed were Capt. Ryan P. Hall, 30, of Colorado Springs, Colo., of the 319th Special Operations Squadron; Capt. Nicholas S. Whitlock, 29, of Newnan, Ga., of the 34th Special Operations Squadron; 1st Lt. Justin J. Wilkens, 26, of Bend, Ore., of the 34th Special Operations Squadron; and Senior Airman Julian S. Scholten, 26, of Upper Marlboro, Md., of the 25th Intelligence Squadron.

All four were based at Hurlburt Field in Okaloosa County, Fla.

Their U-28 utility plane crashed about 8 p.m. Saturday local time (noon EST) about 10 miles from Camp Lemonnier, when it was returning from a mission in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.

“The Hurlburt Field community expresses our deepest condolences to the family of the crew, and we share in their sorrow. Our efforts are focused on helping them through this difficult time,” said Col. Jim Slife, commander of the 1st Special Operations Wing. “We will never forget the valuable contributions these brave men made to their country and community.”

The U-28A is a single engine, manned fixed wing aircraft developed around the Pilatus PC-12 airframe that provides intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities in support of special operations forces, according to a statement from the 1st Special Operations Wing public affairs office.

The cause of the crash is under investigation.

Camp Lemonnier, the only U.S. military base in Africa, houses the American-led, multinational U.S. Combined Joint Task Force — Horn of Africa. The base supports about 3,500 U.S., joint and allied forces military and civilian personnel who work out of Camp Lemonnier in the East African region.

The 1st Special Operations Wing, which the airmen were assigned to, is one of two Air Force active duty special operations wings and falls under Air Force Special Operations Command. Its mission focus is unconventional warfare: counter-terrorism, combat search and rescue, personnel recovery, psychological operations, aviation assistance to developing nations, ‘deep battlefield’ resupply, interdiction and close air support.

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