AC-130J Crews Awarded 2021 Mackay Trophy for Safeguarding Afghanistan Evacuation

A pair of AC-130J Ghostrider crews have been tapped to receive the 2021 Mackay Trophy, awarded by the Air Force and the National Aeronautic Association for the year’s most meritorious flight. The trophy is in recognition of their actions during the withdrawal from Afghanistan that aided in the rescue of some 2,000 American diplomats.

All told, 18 Airmen from the 73rd Expeditionary Special Operations Squadron, Hurlburt Field, Fla., received the recognition June 30.

As the U.S. completed its withdrawal from Afghanistan in the summer of 2021, the Taliban seized territory at a rapid rate. On Aug. 15, Taliban fighters entered the capital city of Kabul, forcing the U.S. to rapidly evacuate its embassy in the city.

In the midst of that evacuation, two AC-130Js, call signs Shadow 77 and 78, alert-launched from Al Dhafra Air Base in the United Arab Emirates to provide close air support for the evacuating personnel.

According to the NAA citation, the crews “maintained visual custody of all American personnel” headed to Hamid Karzai International Airport and provided real-time video to Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark A. Milley. 

The citation also notes that the crews flew the longest unaugmented flight in the AC-130J’s young history—the gunship first flew in 2014.

With the AC-130Js providing close air support, 2,000 Americans were able to evacuate with zero casualties. 

The following Airmen crewed Shadow 77 and 78:

Shadow 77

  • Capt. Lawrence S. Bria
  • Capt. Sam B. Pearce
  • Capt. Aaron M. Rigg
  • Maj. Joshua T. Burris
  • Capt. Michael G. Shelor
  • Staff Sgt. Daniel J. Mayle
  • Staff Sgt. Kevin P. Heimbach
  • Senior Airman Denver M. Reinwald
  • Senior Airman Timothy J. Cisar

Shadow 78

  • Capt. Culley R. Horne
  • 1st Lt. William A. Bachmann
  • Capt. Ryan M. Elliott
  • Capt. Benjamin A. Hoyt
  • Staff Sgt. Dylan T. Hansen
  • Staff Sgt. Andrew J. Malinowski
  • Staff Sgt. Tyler J. Blue
  • Staff Sgt. Gregory A. Page
  • Senior Airman Miguelle B. Corpuz

The crews of Shadow 77 and 78 are the latest Airmen to be recognized for their efforts in the evacuation of Kabul amid chaotic conditions. A number of C-17 crew members, who landed at Hamid Karzai International Airport to airlift personnel and civilians out, have been recognized with the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Air Medal.

The Mackay Trophy was first awarded in 1912 and is on permanent display at the Smithsonian’s National Air & Space Museum in Washington, D.C. A ceremony to present the trophy to the crews of Shadow 77 and 78 will occur at a date to be determined, the NAA said.