Pair of Gunship Crews Over Kabul Awarded 2021 ‘Most Meritorious Flight’

December 28, 2022Jenna Biter
Mackay Trophy AC-130J gunship crews

The crews of Shadow 77 and 78, 73rd Expeditionary Special Operations Squadron, receive the 2021 Mackay Trophy during a ceremony at the National Museum of the US Air Force at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, Dec. 7, 2022. Photo by Tyler Greenlees/National Museum of the US Air Force. AC-130J Ghostrider photo courtesy of Air Force Special Operations Command. Composite by Matt White/Coffee or Die Magazine.

Two AC-130J gunship flight crews were given the Air Force’s annual Mackay Trophy earlier this month for performing the “most meritorious flight” of 2021 during the Kabul airlift.

As Taliban fighters poured into Kabul, Afghanistan, on Aug. 15, 2021, the crews of the two AC-130Js — Ghostriders, as the crews call them — watched over the evacuation of the US Embassy and more than 2,000 Americans. One of the gunships, Shadow 77, flew 15.7 hours, the longest flight ever for a standard Ghostrider crew.

Shadow 77 pilot Capt. Lawrence “Lars” Bria told Coffee or Die Magazine about the flight in August.

“That night was just a testament to American aviation in general,” Bria said. “There were all sorts of American aviation there that night, and I’m proud to have been part of it. As much as I love it as a win for us in the Shadow world, I definitely think the trophy was a win for everybody that night.”

Maj. Culley Horne and Cpt. Lars Bria AC-130J gunship crews

The pilots of Shadow 78 and 77, respectively, from left: Maj. Culley Horne and Capt. Lawrence "Lars" Bria. US Air Force photo.

Bria told Coffee or Die how — flying at more than 10,000 feet over the collapsing city — the crews of Shadow 77 and Shadow 78 saw the US ambassador safely to Kabul’s airport, beamed live video back to the Pentagon and Washington, DC, and broke up crowds and other threats with green-light lasers, a nonlethal trick used by gunships to scare hostile civilian crowds away from a fight.

By the time the two gunships landed back in the United Arab Emirates, the two crews had flown a combined 30 hours overseeing the evacuation of the embassy.

Vice Chief of Staff of the Air Force Gen. David Allvin presented the Mackay Trophy to the Ghostrider crews in a Dec. 7 ceremony at the National Museum of the US Air Force at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio. The National Aeronautic Association sponsors the award.

Read Next (the full story of Shadow 77 and Shadow 78): The Gunships That Didn’t Shoot: 30 Hours Inside Two AC-130Js Over Kabul

Jenna Biter
Jenna Biter

Jenna Biter is a staff writer at Coffee or Die Magazine. She has a master’s degree in national security and is a Russian language student. When she’s not writing, Jenna can be found reading classics, running, or learning new things, like the constellations in the night sky. Her husband is on active duty in the US military. Know a good story about national security or the military? Email Jenna.

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