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Chapel ceremony honors service, sacrifice of Spirit 03
U.S. Air Force Capt. Manh Pham, 16th Special Operations Squadron, salutes the gravestone of Tech. Sgt. John L. Oeslchlager during a wreath-laying ceremony, Jan. 31, 2011, at the Barrancas National Cemetery, Pensacola Naval Air Station, Fla. The ceremony marked the 20th anniversary of when 14 Airmen lost their lives when Spirit 03, an AC-130H Spectre gunship, was shot down by enemy fire in support of Operation Desert Storm Jan. 31, 1991. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Julianne M. Showalter/Released)
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Chapel ceremony honors service, sacrifice of Spirit 03

Posted 2/1/2011   Updated 2/1/2011 Email story   Print story


by Senior Airman Joe McFadden
1st Special Operations Wing Public Affairs

2/1/2011 - HURLBURT FIELD, Fla. -- More than 150 Airmen and family members celebrated the lives and paid tribute to the sacrifices of the fallen crew of Spirit 03 during a 20th anniversary remembrance ceremony at the Hurlburt Field Chapel Jan. 31.

Fourteen Airmen lost their lives Jan. 31, 1991 when their AC-130H Spectre gunship was shot down by an Iraqi surface-to-air missile while supporting U.S. Marines during a battle in Khafji, Saudia Arabia. According to the Air Force website, the event resulted in the largest single loss by any Air Force unit in Operation Desert Storm.

"On this day 20 years ago, the crew of Spirit 03 rode bravely forth and flew into the annals of gunship and Air Force Special Operations Command history," said Col. Michael Plehn, 1st Special Operations Wing commander. "Their courage earned themselves a place among the heroes of our time and all time."

Colonel Plehn offered condolences for the family members who lost a loved one during what became the first major ground engagement of the Gulf War. He also addressed the chapel audience about how the crew's actions to protect others exemplified the themes of service and sacrifice.

"We are honored to have you with us to remember the lives and sacrifices of your husbands, sons, fathers and brothers of our fellow Air Commandos, heroes and friends," Colonel Plehn said. "Our nation is blessed with men and women of character, integrity and fortitude who live these ideals of service and are aware of the sacrifice it entails. So, too, are we blessed as a nation with parents, spouses, siblings and children of character who nurture and support the service of their loved one and endure the many sacrifices both great and small that come with it."

Lt. Col. Patrick Clowney, 4th Special Operations Squadron commander, and Lt. Col. Jason Miller, 16th Special Operations Squadron commander, both read from scripture verses before reading out the names of the crew. The colonels paused between each name, allowing the audience an opportunity to reflect on the contributions each fallen Airman had made.

"The heroes of Spirit 03 will never be forgotten," Colonel Clowney said. "Their legacy has shaped the way this nation fights and wins its wars. Their sacrifice is a true testament to their patriotism. Their souls still fly night after night in the country's conflicts overseas, spreading the blanket of freedom and winning the fight at the doorstep of the enemy."

In the audience was retired Air Force Master Sgt. Wes Fields, who served on Spirit 02, one of the two surviving gunships that flew with Spirit 03 in the Battle of Khafji. He mentioned how many occasions have reminded him how people can celebrate freedom because of the ultimate sacrifice made by the fallen Airmen.

"There are times where I have running hot water or times where I see people enjoying themselves on the beach, and I think about Spirit 03 and others who have given their lives," Mr. Fields said. "I just sit there, think about it and wonder 'Do they realize there are people out there giving their all and sacrificing for their families back home?' I want to go up to them so bad and say, 'You know right now there are people around the world protecting us so we can do what we want?'"

Col. Gerald Buckman, AFSOC reserve advisor, flew and trained with Spirit 03 members as a then-first lieutenant navigator. He described the base's show of support for the Airmen's legacy as overwhelming and a testament to AFSOC culture.

"I believe that it's a true blessing that the warrior spirit is such that we will never forget this mission and the sacrifice that they made," Colonel Buckman said. "It's hard to believe it's been 20 years."

At the conclusion of the service, family members and Airmen attended a wreath-laying ceremony at the Barrancas National Cemetery at Pensacola Naval Air Station, Fla., where seven of the crewmembers are honored. Additionally, wreaths were placed at the grave sites of the seven individuals honored at different locations across the nation.

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

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

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