Community shocked at loss: Flags to fly at half-staff for funeral

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A U.S. Air Force carry team transfers the remains of Air Force Capt. Nicholas S. Whitlock at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware on Tuesday.

By W. WINSTON SKINNER winston@newnan.com Flags will fly at half-staff in Georgia on the day of the funeral for Nicholas Schade Whitlock, who grew up in Newnan and died Saturday in Africa. The bodies of Whitlock and three other men who perished in an airplane accident in the East African nation of Djibouti arrived at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware early Tuesday. Whitlock's parents, Jimmy and Clare Whitlock of Newnan, were in Dover along with the airman's wife, Ashley, and her parents.
Gov. Nathan Deal is planning to order flags at state facilities be lowered to honor Whitlock on the day of his funeral, which still has not been set. Stephanie Mayfield, the governor's press secretary, said Deal is planning to have "flags at half staff on the day of the funeral." Whitlock, 29, was stationed at Hurlburt Field near Fort Walton Beach, Fla. and had left for Africa about a week before his death. His wife was notified of his death at their home in Destin on Saturday. In addition to Whitlock, those who lost their lives were Capt. Ryan P. Hall, 1st Lt. Justin J. Wilkens and Senior Airman Julian S. Scholten. The four were aboard a U-28 aircraft. Military dignified transfer ceremonies for the remains of the four were held at Dover on Tuesday. Whitlock, who was promoted to captain in November 2010, was a U-28A pilot and was on his fifth deployment. He entered the Air Force in 2006, receiving his commission through the Officer Training School. He had been assigned to the 319th SOS and then to the 34th Special Operations Squadron at Hurlburt Field since 2008 and had more than 800 combat flight hours. The cause of the crash remains unknown. Nick Whitlock was a 2001 honor graduate of Newnan High School. He played football and baseball at Newnan, was an Eagle Scout and earned his private pilot's license while flying at Falcon Field in Peachtree City and at Newnan-Coweta Airport. Whitlock attended Mercer University where he earned a bachelor of business administration degree. Nick Whitlock also held a master's of business administration from the University of Florida. As of Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2012, at least 1,771 members of the U.S. military had died in Afghanistan as a result of the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan in late 2001, according to an Associated Press count. The AP count is six less than the Defense Department's tally, last updated Friday at 10 a.m. EST. At least 1,479 military service members have died in Afghanistan as a result of hostile action, according to the military's numbers. Whitlock and the other three Hurlburt airmen are among 104 members of the U.S. military who died in support of Operation Enduring Freedom outside of Afghanistan. The AP count of total OEF casualties outside of Afghanistan is six more than the department's tally. Since the start of U.S. military operations in Afghanistan, 15,343 U.S. service members have been wounded in hostile action, according to the Defense Department. ••• FALLEN PILOT WHITLOCK REMEMBERED “We never expect it to be one of ours.” Dianne Webb reflected on the shock of learning of the death of Capt. Nicholas Schade Whitlock, the 29-year-old airman from Newnan who died in a plane crash in Africa on Saturday. She remarked on the regularity of news reports about young men dying in war zones, but the loss of one of her son’s childhood playmates made the headlines and news reports suddenly, dramatically personal and real. “I never expected it to be one of Jonathan’s friends,” she said. Whitlock’s family learned of his death late Saturday. Associated Press reported Tuesday that Whitlock and three other airmen were aboard a reconnaissance plane that crashed six miles from Camp Lemonnier, the United States’ only base in Africa. According to AP, the four men were returning from Afghanistan, quoting military sources. The news of Nick Whitlock’s death was being shared by Newnan friends on Facebook Sunday. The family was on the prayer list at numerous churches in Newnan and in other nearby areas including at the Methodist church at Haralson in Coweta’s southeastern corner. The Whitlock family’s influence and friendships spread far and deep in Coweta County, and many who heard the news knew the fallen airman or at least one member of his family. Alan Wood, who was principal at Newnan High School when Whitlock graduated in 2001, remembered a remarkable young man. “He was a goal setter,” Wood recalled. “With his imagination, he could touch the sky.” Most of Webb’s memories of Nick Whitlock are from when he was a young child. Webb lost her son, Jonathan, to an accident in February 1992. Jonathan and James Whitlock, Nick’s older brother, were close in age and were friends. Nick Whitlock often was part of their adventures. “I remember him tagging along with them and being a sweet little boy,” Webb said. She remembered that Jonathan Webb and Nick Whitlock carved their names into a cork bulletin board with a handbell tool when they were supposed to be practicing a handbell piece at First Baptist Church. The boys sometimes spent the night at each other’s homes and enjoyed a trip to Stone Mountain in the summer of 1991 to see the laser show. The kudzu patch behind the Webbs’ home was a favorite spot. “The boys had the best time,” she remembered. “I never, ever had to worry when Jonathan was with the Whitlock boys. I knew Clare and Jimmy, and I knew James and Nick. They were good boys from a good family,” Webb said. Nick Whitlock was active in sports at Newnan High School — playing baseball and football. He also excelled academically — graduating with honor in 2001. “He was an extremely intelligent, personable individual who had effervescent creativity,” Wood said. The longtime Coweta County school administrator also remembered Whitlock’s determination to become a pilot — something he began by flying from local airports in Newnan and Peachtree City. “He was one who fulfilled dreams,” Wood said. Whitlock spent his formative years surrounded by family. His middle name — Schade — is the maiden name of his mother, Clare. His grandfather, Wendell Whitlock, is a World War II veteran who was the county public works superintendent for years, and Nick Whitlock has aunts, uncles and a large number of cousins in Coweta County. Nick Whitlock worked with his brother, James, in the Alaska’s Healing Hearts, which offers a year-round nationwide outdoor program that focuses on taking disabled military on hunting, fishing and other outdoor activities. In recent months, the brothers took three disabled soldiers from Fort Benning on a two-day trophy deer hunt at Antler Creek plantation in Alaska. In an interview soon after that trip, James Whitlock described Alaska’s Healing Hearts as “a different kind of rehabilitation.” He said, “This is our passion. We love to hunt and fish, and we love the veterans.” Funeral plans for Nick Whitlock have not yet been finalized. A memorial service for him and the three other men who died — Capt. Ryan P. Hall, 1st Lt. Justin J. Wilkens and Senior Airman Julian S. Scholten — is also being planned at Hurlburt Field in Florida, where all four were stationed. Officials told AP that it did not appear hostile fire had brought down the plane, a single-engine, fixed-wing U-28A. Camp Lemonnier is near Djibouti’s border with Somalia.


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