Academy Public Affairs
A 2007 Air Force Academy graduate was killed in action Tuesday in Iraq.
First Lt. Joseph D. Helton, 24, died Sept. 8 near Baghdad, Iraq, of wounds suffered when enemy forces attacked his vehicle with an improvised explosive device.
“Joseph’s ultimate sacrifice is a tremendous loss to the United States Air Force Academy family. He touched the lives of many people – cadets, Airmen, friends and family – and he will have a lasting effect on them all,” said Lt. Gen. Mike Gould, Air Force Academy superintendent.
Lieutenant Helton came to the Academy in 2003 for basic cadet training, from his hometown of Monroe, Ga. He was a 2003 honor graduate of Monroe Area High School, where he, was the school’s Junior ROTC commander and soccer captain for his junior and senior years. Lieutenant Helton was offered more than $1 million dollars in college scholarships coming out of high school, but chose to attend the Air Force Academy. After his freshman year, he was assigned to Cadet Squadron 19.
“He was a fantastic cadet. Every cadet should strive to be like he was,” said Master Sgt. Angela Evans, superintendent of Cadet Group 2, who was an Academy Military Trainer for CS-19 and worked with Helton extensively when he was a cadet.
Then cadet Helton quickly became one of the go-to guys in the squadron, and continued to show his leadership potential early on.
“When he was a cadet, there was nothing I could give him that he couldn’t do,” Sergeant Evans said . “People were drawn to him – even if he wasn’t in a leadership position.”
Lieutenant Helton wanted to be a leader and wasn’t afraid of taking on a challenge to learn how to lead. He led his peers as squadron superintendent and later as squadron commander for CS-19, and he chose his career field along the same lines.
“We talked at length about what he wanted to do after he graduated,” and he said ‘I want to lead people,’ so security forces was the absolute perfect career field for him to go in to,” Sergeant Evans said.
Lieutenant Helton became an honor graduate in academics, leadership and athletics with the Class of 2007.
His first permanent duty assignment was to the 6th Security Forces Squadron at MacDill Air Force Base, Fla. As a newly minted second lieutenant, he volunteered for deployment immediately. In 2008, he was selected to serve a 12-month tour in Iraq as an adviser to the Iraqi police in southern Baghdad.
That 12-month tour ended in August, but he volunteered to extend his stay in country through January of 2010 to continue Security Forces operations elsewhere in Iraq. In doing so, he would remain with the team he trained with in November 2008, to maintain unit cohesion and stay with his team until the entire team completed their tour in Iraq.
“He was the absolute best cadet I’d ever worked with,” said Sergeant Evans. “Our whole goal here is to develop leaders of character, and he by far fit that description.”
The loss struck close to home for his permanent duty station as well, which has now lost four Airmen to combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“Joe was an amazing Airman and defender who volunteered to lead our best in Iraq. We are deeply saddened by his loss and very proud of his service,” said Col. Lawrence Martin a Class of 1985 graduate and commander of MacDill’s 6th Air Mobility Wing.
Lieutenant Helton is the 11th Air Force Academy graduate killed while supporting Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom.
Funeral arrangements are underway, and a location for internment wasn’t available at press time. But under a new Academy policy, flags will go half-staff at the Academy on the day of his burial regardless of the location to mark the combat loss of an Academy grad.