MC-130 Crew Receives Distinguished Flying Crosses for Role in 2017 Yemen Operation

Lt. Gen. Brad Webb, left, commander of the Air Force Special Operations Command, congratulates six air commandos during a Distinguished Flying Cross ceremony at Hurlburt Field, Florida, Jan. 22, 2019. Air Force photo by TSgt. Kentavist P. Brackin.

Six air commandos assigned to the 67th Special Operations Squadron were awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross on Tuesday for their actions in a January 2017 raid inside Yemen.

On Jan. 28, 2017, the MC-130J crew, known as Arson 69, was supporting a US Navy SEAL raid on an al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula location in the Bayda Province of Yemen that ultimately resulted in the death of Navy SEAL Senior Chief Petty Officer William Ryan Owens. The mission—the first high profile raid conducted under President Trump—received worldwide attention shortly after it concluded. The awards provide new detail into the mission.

During the raid, the MC-130 flew with multiple joint partners into denied airspace, against enemy artillery threats, to help set up a forward location for refueling and rearming of more than two dozen aircraft supporting the Navy SEALs force, according to the AFSOC release.

Over the course of 16 hours, the Commando II’s six-member aircrew refueled 25 aircraft in a hostile location, providing 64,000 pounds of fuel in the threat of a ground attack. The crew also responded to an MV-22 Osprey mishap, helping to repair a damaged refueling hose, and enabled the evacuation of the nine-member Osprey crew, in addition to helping recover “critical” intelligence materials.

“I’m very proud of the tremendous accomplishments of this crew,” Air Force Special Operations Command boss Lt. Gen. Brad Webb said during the ceremony at Hurlburt Field, Fla. “These six airmen exhibit extreme competence that I think defines air commandos. Despite all the difficulties and despite all the chaos with the mission, they knew there was a way and they were going to find it.”

Webb said the crew had to re-establish its operating location from a refueling point to one that would receive casualties. This required reconfiguring the aircraft to be able to support the care and evacuation of those casualties, all while dealing with ongoing chaos and deteriorating weather.

Low on fuel, the crew decided to shut down the engines to preserve fuel for other aircraft, limiting their ability to quickly leave if necessary, despite the hostile environment. The air commandos waited on scene to ensure no one was left behind. As the last aircraft to leave, they arrived “at home on fumes,” Webb said.

“In the face of constantly changing plans, ARSON 69’s tenacity, flexibility, and determination made a difference,” Webb said.

The airmen, all from the 67th Special Operations Squadron, are: Aircraft Commander Maj. Ross Biechler, Co-Pilot Capt. Justin Nadal, Evaluator Combat Systems Officer Maj. Mary Spafford, Evaluator Load Master TSgt. Adam Phelan, Evaluator Load Master TSgt. Samuel Haydon, Instructor Load Master SSgt. Christopher Jones.