Jason Carlyle Hicks
Staff Sergeant, United States Air Force
ARLINGTON, Virginia - As the rain beat down on the mourners, a Pave Hawk helicopter flew low over Arlington National Cemetery, by the grave site of U.S. Air Force Staff Sergeant Jason C. Hicks.
The South Carolina-raised newlywed was flying in the same type of aircraft when it crashed in Afghanistan last month, killing all six aboard.
Hicks' family and friends - many in uniform, the rest in black - gathered Tuesday to bury him at Arlington, across the Potomac River from the Washington Monument and among some of the nation's greatest war heroes.
Before a sea of white headstones, they prayed and shook in grief. Hicks was 25.
They also cried for his widow, Hicks' bride of two months. In tears, Crystalyn Nollen Hicks accepted the flag that had draped her husband's white coffin and hugged it to her chest.
"This afternoon we add another individual to the record of names who are identified as loving this country more than self," said Mark Thomas, an Air Force Captain and Chaplain.
"The cost of adding the name of Staff Sergeant Jason Hicks comes at a high price. He gave all to ensure freedom for all. We remember the words of Jesus from the Gospel of John when he said, 'Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.'"
Family and friends, only a fraction of whom could fit under a temporary awning to shield them from the rain, huddled close as they remembered Hicks' life.
Born in Charlotte and raised in Jefferson in Chesterfield County, the athletic, blue-eyed boy played football from fifth grade until his senior year at Central High School in Pageland, from which he graduated in 1996.
He enlisted in the Air Force and planned to make it his career, but also planned to retire before his 40th birthday and open a seafood restaurant.
Hicks met Crystalyn Nollen when he was training to be a flight engineer in Albuquerque, New Mexico, after he re-enlisted in 2000. They were married January 27, 2003, so she could accompany him on his next assignment in Japan.
They had planned to throw a bigger wedding May 1, 2003, after he returned from Afghanistan.
On the Pave Hawk on March 23, 2003, Hicks was on his second and last tour of duty in Afghanistan. In only four days, he was scheduled to return to his home at Moody Air Force Base in Valdosta, Georgia.
The assignment that day was to transport two Afghani children with life-threatening head injuries to get medical help in Kandahar, in southern Afghanistan. The Pave Hawk crashed in a thunderstorm before the crew could pick up the children.
Hicks' family takes solace in that he died doing what he loved.
"It was the life he chose," his sister Janet Barbee said days after his death.
And it was a duty he took pride in, Captain Thomas said.
"He proudly accepted his duty of service in Operation Enduring Freedom as he sought to preserve the right for those he loved - and even those he did not know - to pursue what we refer to as the American dream.
"He responded to his nation's request with an eagerness that is both a reflection of his patriotism and a testimony to the values instilled in him as a child, that molded him into the man that we honor this day and those values that are worth emulating."
The burial his family chose for him reflected the values by which Hicks lived his life.
With slow and steady steps, a 10-man honor guard of pallbearers removed Hicks' flag-draped coffin from a hearse and carried it toward his grave site.
About 50 of Hicks' Air Force buddies saluted as the honor guard folded the flag and presented it to his widow. A second one was presented to his mother, Taresa Hicks.
The Pave Hawk flew by, a plume of green smoke
in its wake. Fifty yards away, a lone bugler played taps.
In Afghanistan, Iraq, They 'Gave All'
At Arlington Cemetery, Airman, Soldier Praised for Their Sacrifice
By Patricia Davis
There are yellow ribbons tied around every pole in downtown Pageland, South Carolina, and American flags fly at half-staff. But the anguish the tiny community feels may be spelled out best in the banner that stretches across Main Street: "Thanks for everything. In memory of Jason Hicks."
The 25-year-old Hicks was one of six U.S. airmen killed March 23, 2003, in a helicopter crash in Afghanistan. Family members and friends say Hicks, who was twice deployed to serve in Operation Enduring Freedom, most recently in January, died the same way he lived his abbreviated life: His HH-60 Pave Hawk helicopter went down during a thunderstorm while the crew was trying to pick up two children with life-threatening head injuries.
"That was just typical Jason," said Eddie Rivers, chief of the Pageland Fire Department, where Hicks, like his father before him, was a volunteer firefighter. "He was always interested in helping someone else."
At a rain-slickened grave site at Arlington National Cemetery yesterday, Staff Sgt. Jason C. Hicks was honored for helping an entire nation. As a clear plastic tarp was carefully removed from his flag-draped coffin, and those who loved him most huddled close in the springtime chill, an HH-60 Pave Hawk roared overhead in a final salute.
"As we look around, we see that there are thousands of inscriptions and names that represent . . . the history of this great nation," Chaplain Mark Thomas said as rain tapped gently on the corrugated awning. "This afternoon we add another individual to the record of names who are identified as loving this country more than self. The cost of adding the name of Staff Sergeant Jason Hicks comes at a high price. He gave all to ensure freedom for all."
So, too, did Army Captain Tristan N. Aitken, 31, who also was buried at Arlington yesterday. Aitken, who grew up in State College, Pennsylvania, died in Iraq April 4, 2003, when he was hit with a round from a shoulder-mounted rocket launcher while riding in the lead vehicle of an artillery supply convoy.
Aitken, assigned to the 41st Field Artillery Battalion, 3rd Infantry Division at Fort Stewart, Georgia, leaves behind a wife of 16 months, Margo. At Texas Christian University, he was a member of ROTC. Ronald Aitken told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that his son was a devout Christian who went to spring break in Fort Lauderdale while in college, not to party, but to preach on the beach to other students. "His faith sustained him," Ronald Aitken said. "It was his shield. . . . He was a rock."
With U.S. forces defending freedom in Afghanistan and Iraq, for some at the cost of their lives, these have been busy days at the nation's preeminent military cemetery. At least five other service members who died in Iraq will be buried at Arlington this week, including today's service for Army First Lieutenant Jeffrey J. Kaylor, of Clifton. Kaylor, 24, a graduate of Centreville High School, was killed April 7 in a grenade attack about 20 miles outside Baghdad. He is survived by his wife Jenna, a Second Lieutenant in the Army.
The two met as members of Virginia Tech's Corps of Cadets. Like Aitken, Kaylor was assigned to Fort Stewart, with the 39th Field Artillery. He was deployed to the Middle East last August; his wife was serving in Kuwait at the time of his death.
Yesterday, Jenna Kaylor had this to say about her husband of 15 months: "Since the day Jeff entered my life, I have carried his soul with me everywhere. He is my strength, my love, my passion, my life. . . . The world is not complete without him -- I am not complete." The family has requested a private funeral.
Jason and Crystalyn Hicks had planned a traditional wedding next month, when he got back from Afghanistan. But four days before he left in January, they decided not to wait and have a second service when he got back. Crystalyn planned to be with her husband on his next posting, to Japan, his sister, Janet Barbee, said yesterday.
Hicks, who joined the Air Force in 1996 after graduating from high school and working for the Pageland Fire Department, discussed the upcoming church wedding in the last e-mail his sister received from him, on March 23, the day he died.
Their mother, Taresa, had a bad feeling when Hicks was first sent to Afghanistan, last July, for three months, Barbee said. She didn't want him to go. But Hicks assured his family that if he did die, he would be doing what he loved most.
"Nobody twisted my arm to do this," he told his sister. "Make sure they give me my flag."
Yesterday, his wife and his mother were each
presented with an American flag at his grave.
22 April 2003:
From a press report: Tuesday, March. 25, 2003
Airman in Afghan crash grew up in South Carolina
One of the six airmen killed when a U.S. Air Force helicopter crashed Sunday in Afghanistan grew up in Jefferson and had just married on January 27, 2003.
Family members said Staff Sergeant Jason C. Hicks, 25, died doing what he loved.
"It was the life he chose," his sister Janet Barbee, 31, of Monroe, said.
The HH-60G Pave Hawk that Hicks was on crashed Sunday during a thunderstorm while picking up two children with life-threatening head injuries to take them to Kandahar. Military officials would not say whether the injuries were connected to the war.
The crew was within days of completing its tour of duty and returning to Moody Air Force Base in Valdosta, Georgia.
The others killed were identified as: First Lieutenant Tamara Archuleta, 23, of Los Lunas, New Mexico; Master Sergeant Michael Maltz, 42, of St. Petersburg, Florida; Senior Airman Jason Plite, 21, of Lansing, Michigan; Lieutenant Colonel John Stein, 39, of Bardolph, Illinois; and Staff Sergeant John Teal, 29, of Dallas, Texas.
It was Jason Hicks' second tour in Afghanistan, and he was supposed to return home on Thursday, said his uncle Jaime Hildredh of Pageland.
"I found out last night, from his older brother Curtis," Hildredh said. "But Jason's mom found out about it on CNN.
"We got her out of surgery from the hospital and took her back to her house, but were waiting to tell her," he said. "But then we left to go take care of Jason's grandmother, and his mom saw it on CNN."
Hicks, a muscular guy with dark-brown hair and blue eyes, played football from fifth-grade through his senior year at Central High School in Pageland.
After graduating in 1996, Hicks joined the Air Force and quickly decided he wanted a career in the military. He dreamed of retiring from the Air Force at 39 and starting a crab house-style restaurant. Hicks met his wife, Cristy Nollen Hicks, while training to be a flight engineer at a military school in Albuquerque, New Mexico, after re-enlisting in 2000.
They married January 27, 2003 -- four days before Hicks returned to Afghanistan for his final tour. The couple had planned to have a traditional wedding May 1, Barbee said.
The Moody Air Force Base will have a memorial service at 6 p.m. Thursday for the crew.
Hicks will be buried at Arlington National
Cemetery early next week, Barbee said.
One of the six airmen killed when a U.S. Air Force helicopter crashed in Afghanistan Sunday grew up in Jefferson, South Carolina, and had married on January 27, 2003.
Family members said Staff Sergeant Jason C. Hicks, 25, died doing what he loved.
"It was the life he chose," said sister Janet Barbee, 31, of Monroe.
The HH-60G Pave Hawk that Hicks was on Sunday crashed during a flight to pick up two children with life-threatening head injuries and take them to Kandahar. Military officials would not say if the injuries were connected to the war. The crew was within weeks of completing its tour of duty and returning to Moody Air Force Base in Valdosta, Georgia.
Hicks was born in Charlotte but grew up in Jefferson, South Carolina. A muscular guy with dark-brown hair and blue eyes, he played football from the fifth-grade through his senior year at Central High School in Jefferson.
"You name it, if he was going to get into it, he'd get into it," Barbee said. "Nothing really bad, but lots of pranks and mischief."
After graduating in 1996, Hicks joined the Air Force and quickly decided he wanted a career in the military. He dreamed of retiring from the Air Force at 39 and starting a crab house-style restaurant.
Hicks met his wife, Cristy Nollen Hicks, while training to be a flight engineer at a military school in Albuquerque, New Mexico, after re-enlisting in 2000.
In July, Hicks was deployed from Moody to Afghanistan for a three-month tour with the crew of the 41st Rescue Squadron -- part of the 347th Operations Group -- that was trained to use helicopters to save downed pilots, sometimes in enemy territory.
Hicks returned home in October for three months, spending Christmas with his family for the first time in three years.
Cristy Hicks moved to Georgia around that time to prepare for the couple's wedding, Barbee said. They married January 27, 2003 -- four days before Hicks returned to Afghanistan for his final tour -- so that Cristy would be allowed to move with him to his next assignment in Japan this May.
The couple had planned to have a traditional wedding May 1, Barbee said.
"Before he left that time, my mom had a bad feeling," she said.
Cristy Hicks and Barbee each received e-mails from Hicks before the crash Sunday. He asked his sister for help with a wedding announcement.
Later, family members heard about the crash that had happened about 18 miles north of Ghazni, Afghanistan.
"We saw it on TV and had that sinking feeling," Barbee said. "We feel this deep loss. I also feel for Moody Air Force Base, because they didn't just lose one, they lost six."
The base will have a memorial service at 6 p.m. Thursday for all six crew members.
"You never want anyone to lose their life, but not everyone that loses their life loses it doing exactly what they want to do," Barbee said. "I know this war is a good thing and when God says it's our time to go, we're going."
Hicks will be buried at Arlington National Cemetery early next week, Barbee said.
Family members are planning a memorial service at Fork Creek United Methodist Church in Jefferson, South Carolina, at a later date.
A scholarship fund has been set up in Hicks'
memory. To contribute: send checks payable to the Jason Carlyle Hicks Memorial
Scholarship Fund to The Bank of Jefferson, P.O. Box 246, Jefferson, South
Air Force Staff Sergeant Jason Hicks probably had just one more mission to complete - a mercy trip to help two injured children - before he came back home from Afghanistan, his uncle Mendel Sullivan said.
But Hicks and five others died Sunday night when their HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopter went down in southeastern Afghanistan. Investigators are looking to see if thunderstorms in the area could have caused the crash.
"I never had a son, but he was as close to one as I ever had," Sullivan said. "He was just a fine young man. He believed in what he was doing."
Nearly everyone in the tiny Chesterfield County town of Jefferson knew Hicks, and Sullivan said most of them came to see his family Monday to bring a home-cooked meal or just provide a shoulder to lean on.
Hicks, 25, had been in the Air Force for seven years, Sullivan said. He got married on January 27, 2003, just four days before he headed back to Afghanistan for a second tour. His family met his then bride-to-be when Hicks came home this past Christmas.
Hicks also helped fly medical missions in Kuwait.
"I'm proud of him because to be a young man, he had his heart in the right place and he always loved his family and his country," Sullivan said.
Family members plan a memorial service at Fork Creek Methodist Church in Jefferson, but they haven't figured out a date. Hicks will be buried in Arlington National Cemetery with full military honors, Sullivan said.
Hicks' love for helping people came early, his uncle said. He worked with the local fire department and rescue squad, and entered the Air Force not too long after he graduated from Pageland-Central High School, Sullivan said.
"He believed in helping others. He was a top person - he would give you the shirt off his back," Sullivan said.
Sullivan said he and the rest of Hicks' family feel nothing but pride for the work he did. Several times, Sullivan said he was behind President Bush and his military decisions.
"I'd like for it to be stated that the family supports the president 100 percent in what's he's doing," Sullivan said.
Hicks was a member of the 41st Rescue Squadron
at Moody Air Force Base in Georgia.
Courtesy of Barbara McGlynn, Valentines's Day February 2006
Posted: 25 March 2003 Updated: 22 April 2003 Updated: 23 April 2003 Updated: 6 July 2003 Updated: 29 June 2004 Updated: 6 August 2005 Updated: 11 February 2006 Updated: 13 May 2008
Photo By Michael Robert Patterson, May 2008
Photo By M. R. Patterson, 27 June 2003
Photo By M. R. Patterson, 24 May 2004