Kenneth Jason Wilburn – Staff Sergeant, United States Air Force

10 January 2009:

30 year old Staff Sergeant Kenneth Jason Wilburn was participating in a training exercise in a pool at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas. Jason was stationed a Moody Air Force Base near Valdosta, Georgia, but was training at Lackland to become a Forward Air Controller, one of the elite in the Air Force.

Something went wrong and we don’t know what but Jason passed out.  He was taken from the pool and CPR was initiated before he was rushed to the hospital.  His wife, expecting their second  child, was flown to Texas to be with him.

Jason never regained consciousness.  On Monday they disconnected life support. Jason lived about 30 minutes.

Jason will be intered at Arlington National Cemetery but there will be a service, a Celebration of Life service for him in his hometown on Saturday afternoon. His wife can’t be there because on doctor’s orders she will remain in their home near Valdosta.

Jason told people he wanted to make something of himself and he was well on his way.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

JONESVILLE, South Carolina – Family and friends formed a standing-room-only crowd to share stories and view pictures of Air Force Staff Sgt. Kenneth Jason Wilburn on Saturday afternoon at Holcombe’s Jonesville Chapel.

Wilburn, who went by Jason, died Monday at Lackland Air Force Base. The 30-year-old lost consciousness during an above-water training exercise on January 9, 2009.

Wilburn will be buried at Arlington National Cemetery at a later date, but his mother, Lisa Bell, organized Saturday’s event as a celebration for Wilburn’s friends from Union County. An official with the funeral home said the crowd was between 250 and 300 people.

Bell said she didn’t quite know what to expect from the event, which featured some of Wilburn’s favorite songs – including rock anthems by The Who – a slideshow, multiple photo displays and an opportunity for people to share their memories.

“When they played ‘Teenage Wasteland’ he would have been doing one of these like Pete Townsend,” Bell said as she made a windmill air guitar motion.

Jason Wilburn’s father, Wayne Wilburn, recalled his son as “a good boy who always liked to play Army and loved the Air Force.”

Wilburn had a distinguished career. Wednesday would have marked his 11th anniversary in the Air Force. He was stationed at Moody Air Force Base near Valdosta, Georgia, where he lived with his wife, Beccy, their daughter, Megan, and family dog, Sascha. Beccy is seven months pregnant with their daughter, who is to be named Ella, and was unable to travel to South Carolina, but a video of the memorial will be sent to her.

Wilburn, a 1997 graduate of Union High School, was a Security Forces Member at Royal Air Force Lakenheath in the United Kingdom for three years.

He was then relocated to Moody Air Force Base in October 2002 and served three deployments to Iraq. Wilburn graduated U.S. Army Ranger and Airborne schools and completed 37 static-line parachute jumps.

Staff Sergeant Jamie Varner, 30, who is stationed at Robins Air Force Base in Warner Robins, Georgia, addressed the crowd from the podium and said Wilburn “really did do everything he wanted to do.”

After the memorial, Varner recalled how his “brother from another mother” would come up with catch phrases like “strength of the bear” and talked about their time on the Sims Junior High wrestling team.

“We were losing bad, and he was getting beat,” Varner said. “Everyone started chanting ‘strength of the bear,’ and it gave him enough to win.

Varner’s aunt, Kathy Varner, said Wilburn would always visit when he got to return home and “always wanted to know about others” instead of talking about himself. Wilburn was described as physically strong and devoted to family and country.

The slideshow photos featured everything from Wilburn executing a martial arts punch to helping daughter Megan learn to ride a bike.

“That was one of the best memories of her daddy,” Bell said.

Members of the Patriot Guard Riders, a motorcycle group that travels to funerals of service members to show appreciation, stood outside the chapel and held American flags during the memorial.

Bell said they added a special tribute that Wilburn would have loved.

“They asked if they should come through town quiet or loud,” she explained. “I said if you knew him, you better come through as loud as you can.”

Wilburn’s medals included Air Force Commendation Medal with one Oak Leaf Cluster; Air Force Achievement Medal with one Oak Leaf Cluster; Meritorious Unit Award with two Oak Leaf Clusters; Outstanding Unit Award with Valor and five Oak Leaf Clusters; Combat Readiness Medal; Good Conduct Medal with three Oak Leaf Clusters; National Defense Medal, the Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal; Iraqi Campaign Medal with one Device; Global War on Terror Expeditionary Medal; Global War on Terror Service Medal.

Sergeant Wilburn is scheduled to be buried with honors at Arlington National Cemetery on 5 June 2009.

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