Out of commission
link Tony Bullocks: Staff photo
Lt. Gen. Eric Fiel, Air Force Special Operations Command Commander, gives his remarks at Tuesday’s afternoon AC-130H retirement and Grave Digger dedication at Cannon Air Force Base air park.
It was clear Tuesday afternoon that being a member of a gunship is more than just a job. It’s a culture.
And more importantly to those who have served on one, it’s being part of a family.
“In my opinion, there’s only two types of people in the Air Force. Those that fly gunships and those that wish they could fly gunships,” guest speaker Lt. Gen. Eric Fiel, of Hurlburt Field, Fla., said to loud applause.
The occasion was a 27th Special Operations Wing at Cannon Air Force Base dedication ceremony in honor of the retirement of the AC-130H Spectre gunship.
More than 20 people stood up when ceremony officials called for those who had served on a gunship. Those standing ranged from Vietnam War veterans to current airmen serving in Afghanistan.
A tear rolled down the cheek of Vietnam War veteran Larry Peterson as he spoke of what he called a bittersweet occasion.
“It’s just such a proud history. All through the years, you could follow what I did and it’s still relevant today,” Peterson said. “It’s just amazing all the people and support, the aircraft maintenance, the crews and support groups, that kept this thing going throughout the years.”
Peterson, the oldest veteran present at the event, recalled memories from his time on the AC-130E/H gunships, telling a story about looking out the open hatch door of his aircraft and staring an enemy aircraft in the face, then his own aircraft going into a nose dive to avoid it.
Peterson also shared that he and his comrades lost 40 crew members and four ships in 1972, making it a rough year for his squadron.
“My kids call me a hero but the heroes are still over there,” Peterson said, his voice breaking. “Look at all the people here today that were a part of this aircraft and its history.”
Senior Airman Anthony Dye, 21, attended the event as a representative of the youngest airman serving on a gunship.
Dye said watching the bond and “brotherhood” between gunship veterans when he was growing up made him want to be part of the culture from the time he was a child.
“It’s the heritage,” Dye said. “If we walked through our squadron, there’s so much stuff, and to be a part of something that has been around for 50 years is just mind blowing.”
The AC-130 gunship has over 45 years of history, according to Cannon personnel coordinating the event.
“Even though it’s a sad day, what’s really special about all of this ship’s assignments is the people behind flying it,” Fiel said at the end of his speech. “I just want to say thank you and give you another round of applause.”
The following is history given on the AC-130 aircraft during the dedication ceremony:
• This need for fire and close air support led engineers to side mount weapons in several different aircraft, thus allowing these aircraft to continuously orbit while providing concentrated fire on the enemy. This idea and development began with aircraft like the AC-47, the AC-123, and the AC-119, eventually culminating with the AC-130.
• The first C-130 variant of gunships was the AC-130A. This model flew with Spectre, beginning in 1968 when the 16th SOS first became operational at Ubon Royal Thai Air Force Base. The A model destroyed more than 10,000 trucks along the Ho Chi Minh Trail in Southeast Asia.
• The lessons learned with the AC-130A led to the development of the AC-130E, which arrived at Ubon in October of 1971. At the time, it was considered the Cadillac of gunships, sporting new weapons, along with advanced targeting and sensor systems.
• In 1973, the aircraft underwent extensive modifications to its systems and engines, ultimately being re-designated the AC-130H.
• In July of 1979, a two-ship formation of AC-130H ships set a new time aloft and distance record, flying non-stop from Hurlburt Field, Fla., to Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, covering 7,200 nautical miles and 29 hours, 43 minutes of flight time. Later that same year, four AC-130H aircraft flew non-stop to Guam in support of the Iran hostage situation and Operation Eagle Claw.
• From 1983 through 1988, Spectre and the AC-130H participated in Operation Bield Kirk and Operation Blinking Light, flying countless missions over El Salvador. Additionally, in October of 1983, Spectre and the AC-130H were again called to action in Grenada in support of Operation Urgent Fury.
The AC-130H engaged enemy air defenses and ground forces, enabling the assault of Point Salines Airfield, earning its crew the William H. Tunner Award.
• The aircraft also served and helped protect Saudi Arabia and liberate Kuwait during Operation Desert Shield and Operation Dessert Storm in the 1990s.
• Following the terrorist attacks of September 2001, Spectre deployed to an air base near Afghanistan to support Operation Enduring Freedom. Once again, Spectre earned the Mackay Trophy for its role in support of Operation Anaconda.
• Over the past 12 years, the 16 SOS, in the AC-130H have flown over 6,500 combat sorties, 26,000 combat hours, and have been responsible for over 4,600 enemy killed in action, along with over 5,200 enemy captured.
—Information compiled by Cannon Air Force Base personnel and CNJ staff writer Alisa Boswell.