In 2019, the crew of an AC-130 was responsible for saving 88 American and Afghan Special Forces troops lives during a tough battle in Afghanistan.
According to the 1st Special Operations Wing, five crew members of the AC-130J Ghostrider flight “Shadow 71” were honored with the Distinguished Flying Cross, while the other four were given Air Medals.
The Shadow 71 supported ground troops for two hours through ambushes from enemy forces. They also attacked the enemy in three separate areas, including providing much-needed shielding so a helicopter could evacuate those who had been killed.
While much of the details were concealed due to security, including the mission, how many enemy fighters there were, and the total number of casualties.
“I always say gunships are a team sport; you really can’t do something like this without a great team. Shadow 71 has talent from front to back.”Air Force Lt. Col. Christopher McCall, Shadow 71’s aircraft commander
Members who received the Distinguished Flying Cross were McCall, Capt. Jasen K. Hrisca, Capt. Tyler D. Larson, Tech, Sgt. Jake M. Heathcott, and Staff Sgt. Kyle W. Burden.
The Air Medal was given to Maj. Brian D. Courchesne, co-pilot; and three special missions aviators: Staff Sgt. Alex Almarlaes, Senior Airman Brianna S. Striplin, and Senior Airman Thomas I. Fay.
“To the entire crew of Shadow 71: Thank you for who you are; thank you for being our examples; thank you for your service to the nation; thank you for your dedication to our mission.”Lt. Gen. James C. Slife
The AC-130 is often used to provide air support to ground operations. In April of 2019, another crew was awarded two Distinguished Flying Crosses and 12 Air Medals. The team received medals for their air support during a fight with ISIS in Afghanistan.
The current rendition of the plane, the Ghostrider, in known for doling out its fair share of destruction and death. In the Air Force it is known as “the ultimate battle plane” and the “bomb truck with guns on it.”
The plane has a 105mm cannon, a 30mm GAU-23/A cannon, plus wing pylons that haul GBU-39/B Small Diameter Bombs as well as AGM-114 Hellfire missiles.
It is a frequent flyer supporting missions all over Afghanistan, and is set to get an upgrade in 2022. The already popular support aircraft will soon be in even heavier demand.