Gunship crew awarded 14 medals for joint SOF Afghanistan mission

On the night of April 3, 2019, on a heavily-fortified mountainside near Nangarhar Province, Afghanistan, a group of joint American special operations and coalition forces found themselves taking fire as casualties mounted after an improvised explosive device attack.

In need of assistance, the Special Tactics operators on the ground called for an AC-130U “Spooky” Gunship, (call sign Spooky 41) who arrived to suppress the enemy located in close proximity to the group.

As the gunship fired down on the enemy, at times less than 140 meters from the group, three medical-evacuation helicopters hovered more than an hour to safely rescue all 15 patients. The enemy was not able to get a single shot off at the MEDEVAC helicopters, due to the precise airpower strikes of Spooky 41’s aircrew.

Lt. Gen. Jim Slife, commander of Air Force Special Operations Command, presented two Distinguished Flying Crosses with “C” device and 12 single event Air Medals with “C” device to 4th Special Operations Squadron Airmen during an awards ceremony March 2, at Hurlburt Field, for their actions in April.

“The most lethal part of any gunship is not the 25 mm, the 40 mm or the 105 mm (weapons) sticking out of the side of this big, beautiful airplane,” Slife said during the ceremony. “The most lethal part of the gunship is the crew.”

The Spooky 41 aircrew provided precision-strike support to Special Tactics operators for more than nine hours, enabling the safe recovery of all 15 patients and supporting the clearance of an Islamic State group of Iraq and Syria-Khorasan redoubt. The mission took place during Operation Freedom’s Sentinel in support of the Resolute Support mission.

“There is nothing more complicated than the dance that goes on in a gunship to bring the kind of capability our teammates have described this morning to bear on our nation’s adversaries,” Slife said. “The orchestration that goes on is unlike anything you will see anyplace else in AFSOC or in the United States Air Force.”

The AC-130U’s capability to track and engage several targets simultaneously with different levels of ordnance is an invaluable asset to special operations forces on the ground. It offers a 105 mm howitzer cannon, 40 mm Bofors cannon and a 25 mm GAU-12 Gatling cannon.

Members of the joint special operations ground forces were in attendance at the ceremony and spoke to Spooky 41’s impact on their ability to suppress the enemy and safely extract the combat casualties.

“I have been nothing short of humbled by your commitment to your profession and your commitment to each other and though most will never hear your stories of service and sacrifice, I will always know what you did for my men and I will never forget it,” said U.S. Army Maj. Jared Tomberlin, Special Operations Forces team member. “When every second mattered and lives were on the line, everybody was on top of their game in that aircraft – 100% and then some.”

Army Capt. Benjamin Carnell, SOF team member and one of the casualties rescued by MEDEVAC, also echoed a sentiment of appreciation to the Spooky 41 crew.

“From the regiment, from the assault force and more specifically from my wife and my son and my daughter – I want to thank you for your professionalism and for rising to the occasion” Carnell said. “Without any of that, I would not have been hoisted out of there and I wouldn’t be standing here in front of you today, so I am indebted to you in a way that I can’t describe.”

The gunship has a storied history dating back to the Vietnam War, with the first variant, the AC-47 – a modified Douglas DC-3 mounted with three 7.62 mm miniguns – was credited with destroying more than 10,000 trucks and many life-saving close air support missions.

The 3rd generation AC-130U Spooky Gunship is slated for retirement as the next variant, the AC-130J “Ghostrider” Gunship, takes over their mission.

“This is probably the last ceremony of this sort we will do for any AC-130U crew before the last aircraft departs Hurlburt Field later this year,” Slife said.

The AC-130J is modified with a precision strike package, which includes a mission management console, robust communications suite, two electro-optical/infrared sensors, advanced fire control equipment, precision guided munitions delivery capability as well as trainable 30 mm and 105 mm weapons.

The DFC is awarded to any officer or enlisted person of the U.S. Armed Forces who have distinguished themselves in actual combat in support of operations by heroism or extraordinary achievement while participating in an aerial flight.

Air Medals are awarded to U.S. and civilian personnel for single acts of heroism or meritorious achievements while participating in aerial flight and foreign military personnel in actual combat in support of operations.

The “C” device was established to distinguish an award earned for exceptionally meritorious service or achievement performed under combat conditions.

4th SOS Medal Recipients

DFC Recipients:

Capt. Neils Aberhalden, aircraft commander

Capt. John Crandall, Jr., navigator

Air Medal Recipients:

Capt. Micah T. Uvegas, fire control officer

Capt. Brian K. Yee, co-pilot

1st Lt. Nicholas J. Maiolo, electronics warfare officer

Tech. Sgt. Ryan A. Estes, aerial gunner

Tech. Sgt. Jacob B. Griffen, flight engineer

Tech. Sgt. Austin L. Parrent, aerial gunner

Staff Sgt. Samuel Mayfield, sensor operator (Not in attendance)

Staff Sgt. Michael S. Martinez, aerial gunner

Staff Sgt. Omar J. Diaz, sensor operator

Staff Sgt. Jonathon M. Friesz, direct support operator

Senior Airman Jacob C. Bateman, aerial gunner

Senior Airman Zadok N. Dean, III, aerial gunner

Fourteen air commandos with the 4th Special Operations Squadron were presented with two Distinguished Flying Cross medals and 12 Air Medals by Lt. Gen. Jim Slife, commander of Air Force Special Operations Command, at Hurlburt Field, Fla., March 2, 2020. The AC-130U

Air commandos with the 4th Special Operations Squadron were presented with two Distinguished Flying Cross medals and 12 Air Medals by Lt. Gen. Jim Slife, commander of Air Force Special Operations Command, at Hurlburt Field, Fla., March 2, 2020. The AC-130U “Spooky” Gunship crew of Spooky 41 was recognized for their exemplary performance and battlefield coordination during a nine-hour mass casualty firefight during Operation Freedom’s Sentinel near Nangarhar Province, Afghanistan, from April 3-4, 2019. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Joseph P. Leveille)

Two Distinguished Flying Cross medals and 12 Air Medals lay on a table before a presentation ceremony at Hurlburt Field, Fla., March 2, 2020. During the ceremony, 14 air commandos with the 4th Special Operations Squadron were presented two DFCs and 12 Air Medals in recognition of actions taken near Nangarhar Province, Afghanistan, April 3-4, 2019, with the AC-130U

Two Distinguished Flying Cross medals and 12 Air Medals lay on a table before a presentation ceremony at Hurlburt Field, Fla., March 2, 2020. During the ceremony, 14 air commandos with the 4th Special Operations Squadron were presented two DFCs and 12 Air Medals in recognition of actions taken near Nangarhar Province, Afghanistan, April 3-4, 2019, with the AC-130U “Spooky” Gunship. During a nine-hour period, the crew’s exemplary performance and battlefield coordination enabled the recovery of 15 patients following a mass-casualty event. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Hailey M. Ziegler)

/U.S. Air Force Release. The material in this public release comes from the originating organization and may be of a point-in-time nature, edited for clarity, style and length. View in full here.