Hurlburt honors Spirit 03 crew for 25th anniversary

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Marleah Miller
  • 1st Special Operations Wing Public Affairs
Two days after the 25th anniversary of Spirit 03, Air Commandos, friends and families gathered at the Air Park, Feb. 2, to lay a wreath to honor the crew of the AC-130H Spectre gunship.

The crew of Spirit 03, shot down on the morning of Jan. 31, 1991, during the Battle of Khafji, was commemorated by more than 300 people during the wreath laying, as the community reflected on the crew’s courage, patriotism and dedication to their nation.

“They have reminded us that freedom is never free, and that we must reflect, remember and honor those who have made the ultimate sacrifice so that we may live the lives we do today,” said Lt. Col. Andrew Koegl, deputy commander of the 1st Special Operations Group.

These crew members gave the ultimate sacrifice to a cause greater than themselves during Operation Desert Storm, where AC-130H gunship crews assigned to the 16th Special Operations Squadron participated in combat operations against Iraqi forces, flying interdiction missions deep into Kuwait and Iraq. Iraqi air defenses proved to be a challenge for gunship crews and several close calls were experienced early in the air war.

Throughout the nights of Jan. 29-31, four gunship crews supported U.S. Marines and special operations forces during the Battle of Khafji. These gunship crews decimated Iraqi targets under heavy anti-aircraft artillery fire, leaving a wake of damaged and destroyed Iraqi vehicles, armor and personnel.

In the early morning hours of Jan. 31, the last AC-130H on station, Spirit 03, had just finished firing on targets near the Saudi/Kuwait border and was hit in the left wing by an Iraqi SA-7 Grail, a man-portable, shoulder-fired, surface-to-air missile. The impact and explosion caused extensive damage to the aircraft. The crew initiated emergency procedures, but 14 seconds after the missile exploded, the left wing failed and the aircraft crashed into the Persian Gulf.

The combined actions of Spirit 01, 02 and 03 proved decisive during the battle by interdicting Iraqi reinforcements before they reached the Khafji city limits.

“The legacy of these crews, especially Spirit 03 who toughed it out to the very end, speaks volumes in honoring the unsung heroes and strength of the gunship community,” said Ret. Chief Master Sgt. Bill Walter, an AC-130H Spectre gunner. “The crew of Spirit 03 will never be forgotten.”