A US Air Force Ghostrider gunship crew received awards for saving 88 lives with nearly 2 hours of non-stop fire

An AC-130J Ghostrider from Hurlburt Field is parked on the flightline at Fairchild Air Force Base, Washington, March 23, 2021
An AC-130J Ghostrider from Hurlburt Field is parked on the flightline at Fairchild Air Force Base, Washington, March 23, 2021. US Air Force
  • The crew of an AC-130J Ghostrider gunship received awards for heroism this week.
  • The crew, according to an award citation, saved 88 lives with continuous fire for nearly two hours.
  • The crew was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and Air Medals.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

The crew of a heavily armed US Air Force gunship received awards this week for saving dozens of lives by pouring non-stop fire on the enemy during a fight in Afghanistan.

Five crew members assigned to the AC-130J Ghostrider gunship Shadow 71 with the 73rd Special Operations Squadron received the Distinguished Flying Cross and four other members received Air Medals for “extraordinary achievements” during a mission in Afghanistan in September 2019, 1st Special Operations Wing said Thursday.

The Distinguished Flying Cross citation, which Task & Purpose first reported, says that “the AC-130J crew provided nearly two hours of continuous close air support fire against multiple enemy ambushes, saving the lives of 88 American and Afghan Special Forces members.”

The 1st Special Operations Wing said that the gunship crew engaged three enemy positions, providing fire support that allowed helicopter assault forces to land and evacuate wounded troops from the battlefield.

The DFC was presented on Tuesday to aircraft commander Lt. Col. Christopher McCall, weapons systems officer Capt. Jasen Hrisca, combat systems officer Capt. Tyler Larson, special missions aviator Tech Sgt. Jake Heathcott, and sensor operator Staff Sgt. Kyle Burden.

And the four Air Medals were given to co-pilot Maj. Brian Courchesne and special missions aviators Staff Sgt. Alex Almarlaes, Senior Airman Brianna Striplin, and Senior Airman Thomas Fay.

The crew of Shadow 71 pose after receiving the Distinguished Flying Cross and an Air Medal during a ceremony at Hurlburt Field, Florida, June 22, 2021
The crew of Shadow 71 pose after receiving the Distinguished Flying Cross and an Air Medal during a ceremony at Hurlburt Field, Florida, June 22, 2021 US Air Force

“I always say gunships are a team sport; you really can’t do something like this without a great team,” McCall said. “Shadow 71 has talent from front-to-back.”

The Distinguished Flying Cross citation said that “the professional competence, aerial skill, and devotion to duty displayed by the AC-130J crew reflect great credit upon themselves and the United States Air Force.”

The AC-130J is the latest version of a US gunship with a combat history dating back to the Vietnam War. The 73rd Special Operations Squadron, according to the Air Force, was the first AC-130J squadron. It was activated at Hurlburt Field, Florida, which is where the awards were handed out this week.

Previously described by Air Force officials as a “bomb truck with guns on it,” the AC-130J gunship is armed with a Precision Strike Package consisting of 30 mm and 105 mm cannons, as well as standoff precision guided munitions, including both bombs and missiles.

The AC-130J took to the skies over Afghanistan for the first time in June 2019, just a few months before the crew of Shadow 71 would carry out the mission during which they heroically saved the lives of fellow troops.

The commander of Combined Joint Special Operations Air Component-Afghanistan told Stars and Stripes that fall that the AC-130Js were getting called out to support missions every single night and that in a period of about four months, the gunships had flown over 200 sorties.

An enlisted leader told the paper at the time that the Ghostriders not only emboldened troops on the ground but have also saved lives.