AC-130 gunship crew receives medals for saving 88 lives in combat

| June 28, 2021

The crew of Shadow 71 (pictured) all received medals for their performance over Afghanistan back in September 2019. From;

An Air Force AC-130J Ghostrider gunship crew was awarded multiple medals this week for providing cover and close-air support for special forces personnel during a September 2019 battle in Afghanistan.

Five air commandos from the 73rd Special Operations Squadron at Hurlburt Field, Florida, received the Distinguished Flying Cross, which is awarded for heroism or extraordinary achievement during an aerial flight. Four others received Air Medals, given for a single act of heroism to those who perform exceptionally while in aerial flight, the service said in a news release.

The crew, operating as “Shadow 71,” flew nearly two hours supporting American and Afghan special forces troops who were ambushed and engaged in a firefight, according to the release. Shadow 71 targeted crucial positions below to fend off the enemy’s advancement, it added.

Those awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross during a June 22 ceremony at Hurlburt included:

  • Lt. Col. Christopher McCall, aircraft commander
  • Capt. Jasen Hrisca, weapon systems officer
  • Capt. Tyler Larson, combat systems officer
  • Tech. Sgt. Jake Heathcott, lead special missions aviator
  • Staff Sgt. Kyle Burden, sensor operator

The members awarded the Air Medal were:

  • Maj. Brian D. Courchesne, co-pilot
  • Staff Sgt. Alex Almarlaes, special missions aviator
  • Senior Airman Brianna Striplin, special missions aviator
  • Senior Airman Thomas Fay, special missions aviator

Courchesne was unable to attend the presentation.

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

Lt. Gen. Jim Slife, head of Air Force Special Operations Command, presented the airmen with their awards.

Together, the nine air commandos saved the lives of 88 American and Afghan special forces members. They also contributed uninterrupted “cover for helicopter assault forces during landing and casualty evacuation, ultimately ensuring the rescue of wounded ground forces,” according to an awards citation provided to

The 73rd was activated at Hurlburt in 2018 as the first Ghostrider squadron. Along with the 105mm cannon sported by its cousin, the AC-130U model, the fourth-generation AC-130J is equipped with a 30mm cannon. The model reached initial operational capability in September 2017.

The service plans to buy 37 of the aircraft through 2024.

Bravo zulu to this crew! Two other thoughts. First, I’m heartened to see some embrace for the combination cover (saucer/bus driver cap). Second, it’s refreshing to see that the DFCs weren’t reserved exclusively for the officers with the enlisted getting the lesser award.

Category: Afghanistan, Air Force, Bravo Zulu, F*** Yeah!, Real Soldiers, Valor

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Battery Gun Salute for these Warriors of a true “Aerial Artillery Platform” (“…105mm CANNON…”; “…a 30mm CANNON…”). Wingwiping Brother was on the design/build/transition Team for the C130J up there in MayRhetta. Yep, Lockheed got that one right. Unlike its “other cousin” the wings/motors are mounted properly AND it can land/take off on/from a floating air base.


DAMNIT! Meant to attach this linky, another Tale of Ghostriders. Posted to Pay Honors to the Crew Member Warriors of “Shadow 71”.


HOOOOAH !!!!!!!!!


Bummed that I never saw one of these things over there, but also glad that the situation never called for it. What an awesome and terrifying piece of kit.

Bravo to those lads and ladette. Very much deserved by the looks of it.


I have never seen an AC-130 firing, but have seen an AC-47 a couple of times. Those were “Wow!” times, and to think that the AC-130 packs four or five or more times the punch of AC-47 — “Wow!” Congratulations to Shadow 71.


Watched an AC-130 Spooky work out in the Da Nang area from the hills to the north.
It was like a bucket of red paint being poured over the land as the stream of tracers
snaked back and forth like a piece of rope. Quite a show.
Congratulations to the crew!


First, I’m heartened to see some embrace for the combination cover (saucer/bus driver cap).
Yet you have no love for the flat hat…..
“Unt-Cay, Ap-Cay” 😀 😀 😀