Today We Remember ‘Spirit 03’ (Updated)

Members of the 1st Special Operations Wing and family of the Spirit 03 crew attend a wreath-laying ceremony Jan. 31, 2011, at the Barrancas National Cemetery, Pensacola Naval Air Station, Fla. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Julianne M. Showalter)

Note: This post has been updated at the bottom to provide more information on the AC-130H

Whether one agrees with specific U.S. military actions or not or, for that matter, whether one agrees with war or not, we must never forget those who our nation sends to fight those wars and we must especially remember and honor those who never make it back home.

Today marks the 22nd anniversary of the shooting-down of a 16th Special Operations Squadron AC-130H Spectre gunship, with the call-sign “Spirit 03.”

It happened twelve days into Operation Desert Storm during the Battle of Khafji, a battle to stop Iraqi mechanized and armored divisions from moving south from Kuwait to cross the border into Saudi Arabia near a Saudi town named Khafji.

As part of a decisive demonstration of air power over ground forces, three AC-130 Spectre gunships joined the battle to provide air-to-ground fire and close air support.

As the last of the three AC-130s still on station early on the morning of January 31, and about to end its mission, Spirit 03 “received a call from the Marines – they needed an enemy missile battery destroyed. Despite the risk of anti-aircraft artillery fire, and the greater danger of the morning sun casting light on the circling gunship, the crew of ‘Spirit 03’ chose to remain and destroy the position requested.”

“Spirit 03” did what it had been asked to do, it destroyed the target designated by the Marines who were under fire, but that action came at a heavy cost.

An SA-7 “Grail” man-portable surface-to-air missile was fired by the Iraqis at the now in-the-early-morning-light-visible AC-130 in the sky over Khafji.

“The missile found its target and at 0635 hours the aircraft sent out a “mayday” distress call and then crashed into the waters of the Persian Gulf,” according to SpecialOperations.com.

All 14 crewmembers were killed.

The loss of the crew of “Spirit 03” was the largest single loss by any Air Force unit during Operation Desert Storm.

We will never forget this mission and the sacrifice that they made.

The crewmembers of Spirit 03, killed in action Jan. 31, 1991:

Maj. Paul Weaver
Capt. Thomas Bland
Capt. Arthur Galvan
Capt. William Grimm
Capt. Dixon Walters
Senior Master Sgt. Paul Buege
Senior Master Sgt. Jim May
Tech. Sgt. Robert Hodges
Tech. Sgt. John Oelschlager
Staff Sgt. John Blessinger
Staff Sgt. Tim Harrison
Staff Sgt. Damon Kanuha
Staff Sgt. Mark Schmauss
Sergeant Barry Clark

CODA:

The typical AC-130H typically carries a crew of 14:

pilot
co-pilot
navigator
fire control officer.
electronic warfare officer
flight engineer
loadmaster
low-light TV operator
infrared detection set operator
5 aerial gunners

It is typically armed with:

2 × 20 mm M61 Vulcan cannon
1 × 40 mm L60 Bofors cannon (120 rpm)
1 × 105 mm M102 howitzer (6-10 rpm)

DoD photo

The big guns can be seen above, but better in the photograph below where the 40mm cannon and the 105mm howitzer can be seen protruding from the fuselage of the AC-130H.

DoD photo by: SSGT SUSAN FOREMAN

Below is a famous photograph of an AC-130H dropping countermeasures flares.

         

Author: DORIAN DE WIND, Military Affairs Columnist

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3 Comments

  1. It is right to remember these soldiers. And it is right to remember how major planning and inclusion of allies made this one of the quickest and most effective uses of force ever. Would that they would all be planned as well, if we must plan them at all.

    I’m astonished at the high ranks of all the members of this crew. Is this a result of our increasingly technological armed forces? If so, all the more ironic that all that technology, and trained personnel, could be destroyed by a “man-portable” suface to air missle.

  2. Thanks for your comments, The-Ohioan.

    Typically an AC-130 (Spectre) crew is made up of 14 crew members:

    pilot
    co-pilot
    navigator
    fire control officer.
    electronic warfare officer
    flight engineer
    loadmaster
    low-light TV operator
    infrared detection set operator
    5 aerial gunners

    It is not at all unusual for the C-130 pilot to be a major, and the other officers captains (There is a lot of training involved for the co-pilot, navigator, EWO, etc., thus Captain is quite normal.) The ranks of the enlisted crew members I would say are also not out of the ordinary.

  3. The Ohioan,

    I have added some additional AC-130H info at the end of the post.

    As to the lethal, shoulder fired ground-to-air missiles, that is another danger most aircrews now have to face in almost all theaters. Sophisticated electronic counter measures and other measures and tactics provide some protection.

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