Military Aviation

AC-130J Ghostrider aircrew received Distinguished Flying Cross, Air Medal for saving 88 lives during Afghanistan battle

The AC-130J 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.

On Jun.22, 2021 during a ceremony at Hurlburt Field, Fla., multiple medals were awarded to an AC-130J Ghostrider aircrew with the 73rd Special Operations Squadron (SOS).

As told by 2nd Lt. Jason Barkey, 1st Special Operations Wing Public Affairs, in the article Air Commandos receive Distinguished Flying Cross, Air Medal, 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 US Air Force (USAF) 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.

According to Task & Purpose, the AC-130J saved the lives of 88 American and Afghan Special Forces members during the battle.

“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 is home of Air Force Special Operations Command‘s first AC-130J Ghostrider gunship. The unit was activated at Hurlburt Field, Florida, Feb. 23, 2018.

The73rd SOS 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.

The AC-130J Ghostrider represents the 5th generation of fixed wing gunships and will continue the legacy of the gunship fleet of AC-130H Spectre, AC-130U Spooky, and AC-130W Stinger gunships. The first AC-130J aircraft completed developmental test and evaluation in June 2015. Initial operational capacity was reached in 2017; full operational capability is forecast for FY25.

This print is available in multiple sizes from – CLICK HERE TO GET YOURS. AC-130U Spooky II 1st SOW, 4th SOS, 88-0163

Photo credit: U.S. Air Force

Dario Leone

Dario Leone is an aviation, defense and military writer. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviation Geek Club” one of the world’s most read military aviation blogs. His writing has appeared in The National Interest and other news media. He has reported from Europe and flown Super Puma and Cougar helicopters with the Swiss Air Force.

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