Vance’s special operations community remembers Ratchet 33

  • Published
  • By 2nd Lt. Alyssa Letts
  • 71st Flying Training Wing Public Affairs

VANCE AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. – When a U-28A, call sign Ratchet 33, went down near Djibouti, Africa, Feb. 18, 2012, it forever changed lives -- including those of several Vance Airmen. 

The pilot of that flight was Capt. Ryan P. Hall, from the 319th Special Operations Squadron. He was a Vance alumni and close friend to Col. Erick Turasz, the 71st Operations Group commander.

“It is vital that we honor our past and that loved ones and friends of our fallen heroes know that we have not forgotten their sacrifices,” said Turasz. 

Hall and his crew were supporting Operation Enduring Freedom. 

The other members of Ratchet 33 were Capt. Nicholas S. Whitlock and 1st Lt. Justin J. Wilkins, from the 34th Special Operations Squadron, and Senior Airman Julian S. Scholten, from the 25th Intelligence Squadron. 

Another Vance graduate, and former first assignment instructor pilot, Tony Weedn, was also one of the Air Commandos in Djibouti when Ratchet 33 went down.

Prior to the flight, Weedn was the last person to hug Whitlock in a send-off on the flight line. “I now encourage people to always say ‘I love you’ to their friends and family.”

“It’s important to remember the bigger picture of what we are training towards,” Turasz said. “For many, it could be soon that our nation will call on them to put themselves in harm’s way. This is why we must be relentless in our training and instruction to ensure we are building the highest quality of pilots and operators for our Air Force.”

Approximately 25 instructor pilots represent the Commando community at Vance. On average, one or two of Vance graduates per class join special operations. 

When student pilots see first-hand how their instructors and commanders honor the friends they have lost, especially during a deployment, it emphasizes the importance of living by the Air Force core values, said Turasz.

“Chances are that our graduates will lose someone they are close to in their flying career,” said Turasz. “It’s important to remember them, but also to realize they would want us to continue to fly, fight and win. That is why one of our top priorities is developing resilient Airmen.”

The legacy of Ratchet 33 and other Airmen who paid the ultimate sacrifice will continue to be passed down to each and every pilot who earns their wings in the skies over Oklahoma.  

“Ryan never shied away from risks,” said Turasz. “He always stepped up to the challenge and answered the call with ‘here I am, send me,’ the same way our Airmen have volunteered to defend our freedom.”