Air Force Marks 30th Anniversary of Largest Single Loss of Operation Desert Storm

Posted on January 30, 2021 by Staff reports

Three AC-130J Ghostriders fly over Hurlburt Field during a memorial ceremony for Spirit 03 at Hurlburt Field, Florida, Jan. 29, 2021. Spirit 03, an AC-130H Spectre gunship with 14 crewmembers, was shot down during the Battle of Khafji, resulting in the largest single loss by any Air Force unit during Operation Desert Storm. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Miranda Mahoney)

The 1st Special Operations Wing hosted a 30th anniversary remembrance ceremony for the fallen crew of Spirit 03 at the Hurlburt Field Air Park Jan. 29.

The 14-person crew’s AC-130H Spectre gunship was shot down by an Iraqi surface-to-air missile while conducting a combat mission during Operation Desert Storm, Jan. 31, 1991.

“It’s like losing a member of your family,” said Retired Chief Master Sgt. Bill Walter, Spectre Association historian with Headquarters Air Force Special Operations Command. “It’s important to let their family members know that they are missed and won’t be forgotten. We never forget.”

The crew were supporting U.S. Marines during a battle in Khafji, Saudi Arabia.

The AC-130H gunship belonged to the 16th Special Operations Squadron.

“Spirit 03, tail number 696567 of the 16th Special Operations Squadron, based at Hurlburt Field, Florida, became the 7th AC-130 aircraft to be lost in combat,” said U.S. Air Force Capt. Joseph Megnia, an evaluator combat systems officer with the 73rd Special Operations Squadron. “We continue to reflect on the names of the lost of Spirit 03.”

The incident resulted in the largest single loss suffered by an Air Force unit in Operation Desert Storm.

Family members of the fallen and Hurlburt’s top leadership gathered together, while socially distanced, to commemorate them.

“Circumstances may have left us physically apart, a difficult reminder of the separation from your loved ones you pray could still be here,” said Megnia. “We hope to convey from our military family to yours our everlasting commemoration of their sacrifice and continuing admiration of your strength.” 

The crewmembers of Spirit 03:

  • 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