Justin James Wilkens

Justin James Wilkens

Oregon, USA
Death 18 Feb 2012 (aged 26)
Djibouti City, Djibouti
Burial Arlington, Arlington County, Virginia, USA
Plot Section 60 Site 10124
Memorial ID 102391050 · View Source
Suggest Edits

Bulletin, The (Bend, OR) - Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Bend man serving in Air Force dies in Africa crash

A 26-year-old Bend man who grew up dreaming of becoming a pilot died Saturday along with three other U.S. airmen when their reconnaissance plane crashed near a military base in Djibouti, Africa.

Information about the crash was limited when the soldiers' names were released Monday, but the U.S. military described it as an accident that occurred during a routine flight near Camp Lemonnier as part of the war in Afghanistan. All on board the plane died. They are U.S. Air Force 1st Lt. Justin Wilkens, of Bend; Capt. Ryan Hall, 30, of Colorado Springs, Colo.; Capt. Nicholas Whitlock, 29, of Newnan, Ga.; and Senior Airman Julian Scholten, 26, of Upper Marlboro, Md.

All four belonged to squadrons in the U.S. Air Force 1st Special Operations Wing out of Hurlburt Field, Fla., which focuses on areas such as counterterrorism and combat search and rescue. Wilkens was with the 34th Special Operations Squadron.

According to his longtime friend Kalon Pluma, Wilkens was home-schooled in Bend. He was the son of local chiropractor Dr. Jim Wilkens and his wife, Sharon, who were traveling to Dover Air Force Base to receive their son's body. Wilkens had three siblings.

Pluma said he met Wilkens in the Civil Air Patrol cadet program, where Wilkens was the youth commanding officer. The two of them quickly became friends.

"He loved God, he loved his family and he loved flying," Pluma said. "I'm not sure on the dates, but I'm pretty sure he got his pilot license before his driver's license."

The Civil Air Patrol was a step in Wilkens' path to the Air Force Academy, Pluma said. Before Wilkens joined the military, Pluma remembers him circling above his parents' house, waiting for people to come out and wave.

"I do remember the first time he took me up flying," Pluma recalled with a small laugh. "He was smooth, smooth in every sense of flying."

Wilkens graduated from the Air Force Academy in 2009 and was a combat systems officer when he died. According to the Air Force, he was on his third deployment and had more than 400 combat hours.

Brad Stankey, of the High Desert Soaring Club in Bend, is one of the people who taught Wilkens to fly. Stankey said Wilkens earned his solo certificate to fly gliders when he was about 14 or 15 years old. He would eventually become an instructor.

Stankey called Wilkens a "bright young lad" who always knew he wanted to fly bigger and better machines. Once Wilkens left for the service, Stankey said he knew he'd be successful because of that obsession.

"We're sorry to lose him, but we're glad he was doing what he loved," Stankey said. "Him and I flew quite a bit together, and we enjoyed every minute of that. Those are going to be great memories."

According to those who knew him, it didn't take much for Wilkens to leave an impression. For 72-year-old Jerry Thye, it took only one encounter.

Thye is a volunteer for the local Civil Air Patrol who moved to Central Oregon from Seattle around 2004. While Thye never crossed paths with Wilkens while he was in the Civil Air Patrol cadet program, the two met when Wilkens was on break from the Air Force Academy.

Wilkens was helping out with the High Desert Soaring Club, giving free glider rides to kids involved with the Civil Air Patrol cadet program, Thye said. The two had only a brief conversation, but he remembers how impressed he was with Wilkens' enthusiasm for aviation.

"He might not have remembered me," Thye said, "but as such an outstanding young man, I certainly remembered him."

The memory is enough to make Thye gasp with emotion. Much of that has to do with their similar trajectories with the Civil Air Patrol, where Thye also learned to fly as a youth cadet.

"Obviously, I identified with him immediately because we were both Civil Air Patrol top guys in our youth," Thye said. "I had been in the aviation industry for about 50 years, and I knew super skyrocket guys and girls when I saw them. And he was one of those."

The plane Wilkens was in when he died was a U-28A, a single-engine, fixed-wing, turboprop aircraft used by the military for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance. It's similar to the Pilatus PC-12 that can be used either as a passenger or cargo plane.

According to information from U.S. Africa Command, the plane went down about six miles from the Djibouti International Airport in the Horn of Africa. U.S. military personnel responded to the crash site, and the incident is now under investigation. A military spokesman said there is no indication the crash involved hostile fire.

Gravesite Details Interment on September 20, 2012
  • Created by: J. Edward Ross
  • Added: 20 Dec 2012
  • Find A Grave Memorial 102391050
  • Michelle Schmidt Biegalski
  • Find A Grave, database and images (https://www.findagrave.com : accessed ), memorial page for Justin James Wilkens (7 Feb 1986–18 Feb 2012), Find A Grave Memorial no. 102391050, citing Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Arlington County, Virginia, USA ; Maintained by J. Edward Ross (contributor 47159122) .