HURLBURT FIELD — The 14 crew members aboard “Spooky 41,” an AC-130U gunship operating in Afghanistan’s Nangarhar Province on April 3-4, 2019, were honored Monday morning with a medals ceremony at Hurlburt Field.
“Hoo-ah, Spooky 41,” said an appreciative Air Force Maj. Jeff Wright, a Special Tactics officer with the Hurlburt Field-based 24th Special Operations Wing.
Wright was among the ground troops who had faced down an ISIS force in a cave-riddled section of the Afghan province on that day nearly a year ago, with the life-saving help of the “Spooky 41” crew.
U.S. and other troops had been sent into the area based on intelligence that ISIS fighters were planning attacks on the United States. For nine hours on that April day last year, the gunship crew from the Hurlburt Field-based 4th Special Operations Squadron provided fire support that allowed U.S. and other ground forces to prevail, and also allowed for the evacuation of 15 injured ground personnel.
On that day, Wright, whose duties included coordinating available air power, said he quickly realized that “Spooky 41 is our chance to get out of this thing.”
“Spooky 41 laid down a barrage of fire” that delivered “a devastating blow” to ISIS-K (ISIS-Khorasan Province, a branch of ISIS active in Afghanistan and Pakistan), Wright said.
As a result, the commander and navigator aboard Spooky 41 that day — Capt. Neils J. Abderhalden and Capt. John H. Crandall Jr., respectively — each were presented Monday with a Distinguished Flying Cross.
The Distinguished Flying Cross is awarded to any officer or enlisted person who distinguishes themselves in combat flight by heroism or extraordinary achievement.
Additionally, the 12 other crew aboard the aircraft during the fighting were awarded the Air Medal. That medal is presented to aircrew members for single acts of heroism or meritorious achievement during combat flight.
Presented with the Air Medal on Monday were Capt. Brian K. Yee, Spooky 41’s copilot; Capt. Micah T. Eveges, fire control officer; Lt. Nicholas J. Maiolo, electronic warfare officer; Tech. Sgts. Jacob B. Griffin, flight engineer, Austin L. Parrent, aerial gunner and Ryan A. Estes, aerial gunner; Staff Sgts. Samuel F. Mayfield (who has since left the Air Force), sensor operator, Omar J. Diaz, sensor operator, Michael S. Martinez, aerial gunner and Jonathon M. Friesz, direct support operator; and Senior Airmen Jacob C. Bateman, aerial gunner and Zadok N. Dean III, aerial gunner.
The AC-130U gunship, is heavily armed, but Lt. Gen. Jim Slife, commander of Air Force Special Operations Command, said Monday that armament isn’t the secret to the effectiveness of gunships.
“The most lethal part of a gunship is the crew,” Slife said in an homage to Spooky 41.
Slife went on to note the intricacies of effectively using a gunship. Among the challenges faced by the crew of Spooky 41, for example, was deciding which aircraft systems could be powered down so the gunship could remain on the scene supplying needed firepower.
“There’s nothing more complicated than the dance that goes on in a gunship,” Slife said.
The crowd of family, friends and fellow airmen on hand for the Monday ceremony also heard from a U.S. Army Green Beret officer who was on the ground on that April day in Afghanistan.
“When every second mattered, everyone in that aircraft was at the top of their game,” said Maj. Jared Tomberlin.
Then, turning to the Spooky 41 crew, he said, “I’ll always know what you did for my men, and I’ll never forget it.”
Also speaking to the Spooky 41 crew, and to the family, friends and airmen gathered for the medals ceremony, was another Army Special Forces officer, Capt. Benjamin Carnell. One of those injured that day, Carnell credited the gunship crew with keeping him and others alive.
“For my wife, my son and my daughter ... I am indebted to you in a way I can’t describe,” he said.