Gunship Crew Nets 5 Distinguished Flying Crosses for High-Risk Afghanistan Mission

The Air Force awarded five Distinguished Flying Crosses and four Air Medals to the crew of an AC-130J gunship for a daring mission to help helicopter crews safely evacuate wounded American and Afghan forces during a September 2019 firefight in Afghanistan.

Flying under the callsign Shadow 71, the Ghostrider provided continuous close air support over the course of a two-hour operation, firing on multiple enemy positions as helicopter assault forces flew in to evacuate wounded ground troops, according to a June 22 release.

“I always say gunships are a team sport,” said Shadow 71 aircraft commander Lt. Col. Christopher McCall during an award ceremony at Hurlburt Field, Fla. “You really can’t do something like this without a great team. Shadow 71 has talent from front to back.”

During the ceremony, Distinguished Flying Crosses were awarded to McCall, weapon systems officer Capt. Jasen K. Hrisca, combat systems officer Capt. Tyler D. Larson, lead special missions aviator Tech. Sgt. Jake M. Heathcott, and sensor operator Staff Sgt. Kyle W. Burden.

Four more crew members were awarded the single event Air Medal: co-pilot Maj. Brian D. Courchesne, special missions aviator Staff Sgt. Alex Almarlaes, special missions aviator Senior Airman Brianna S. Striplin, and special missions aviator Senior Airman Thomas I. Fay. 

Air Force Special Operations Command boss Lt. Gen. James C. Slife praised the crew in the release. “Thank you for who you are,” he said. “Thank you for being our examples; thank you for your service to the nation; thank you for your dedication to our mission.”