The American Airforce crew of an AC-130J Ghost Rider—flight “Shadow 71”—was awarded medals for a fierce battle in Afghanistan in support of Operation Freedom’s Sentinel that took place in September 2019. The Shadow 71 crew was credited with saving 88 American and Afghan Special Forces members as they provided nearly two hours of continuous close air support against multiple enemy ambushes and positions.
The AC-130J Ghost Rider is equipped with a 105mm cannon, a 30mm GAU-23/A cannon, and wing pylons designed to haul both GBU-39/B small diameter bombs and AGM-114 Hellfire missiles. Who says you can’t fly a tank?
Read the full press release from the 1st Special Operations Wing below:
HURLBURT FIELD, Fla. – An AC-130J Ghostrider aircrew with the 73rd Special Operations Squadron received multiple medals during a ceremony at Hurlburt Field, June 22, 2021.
Five Air Commandos received the Distinguished Flying Cross, and four others received single event Air Medals in recognition of extraordinary achievements during an operational mission in Afghanistan in September 2019.
“I always say gunships are a team sport; you really can’t do something like this without a great team,” said U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Christopher McCall, Shadow 71 aircraft commander. “Shadow 71 has talent from front-to-back.”
The Ghostrider crew, operating under the call sign Shadow 71, provided nearly two hours of continuous close air support for a coalition force of American and Afghan forces. During the mission, the crew engaged multiple enemy fighting positions while providing uninterrupted cover for helicopter assault forces during landing and casualty evacuation, ultimately ensuring the rescue of wounded ground forces.
“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,” said U.S. Air Force Lt. Gen. James C. Slife, commander of Air Force Special Operations Command.
Recipients of the Distinguished Flying Cross are:
Lt. Col. Christopher B. McCall, aircraft commander
Capt. Jasen K. Hrisca, weapon systems officer
Capt. Tyler D. Larson, combat systems officer
Tech. Sgt. Jake M. Heathcott, lead special missions aviator
Staff Sgt. Kyle W. Burden, sensor operator
Recipients of the single event Air Medal are:
Maj. Brian D. Courchesne, co-pilot (unable to attend the ceremony)
Staff Sgt. Alex Almarlaes, SMA
Senior Airman Brianna S. Striplin, SMA
Senior Airman Thomas I. Fay, SMA
The DFC is awarded to any officer or enlisted person of the U.S. armed forces for heroism or extraordinary achievement while participating in aerial flight. The Air Medal is awarded to U.S. and civilian personnel for single acts of heroism or meritorious achievements while participating in aerial flight.
The 73rd SOS plans, prepares and executes AC-130J Ghostrider gunship missions in support of joint conventional and special operations forces, providing close air support, armed reconnaissance, armed escort and air interdiction to theater commanders.
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