Memorial Service for Spirit 03'
ARLINGTON NATIONAL CEMETERY- Col. Michael T. Plehn speaks to military members and their families at a memorial service about the mission of the Spirit 03' crew the day they were shot down. (U. S. photo by Mr. Gary Black)
Commentary: Crew of 'Spirit 03' -- upholding the Airman's Creed



by Col. Mike Plehn
CSAF Fellow


2/23/2009 - ARLINGTON NATIONAL CEMETERY  -- Among silent rows of marble tablets honoring our nation's many heroes, Air Commandos and their families gathered at Arlington National Cemetery on Jan. 31 to pay tribute to the memory of the 14 heroes from the fallen crew of Spirit 03, an AC-130H gunship shot down 18 years ago during Operation Desert Storm.

The third of three gunships launched to support embattled coalition forces near the Saudi Arabian border town of R'as al Khafji. The crew of Spirit 03 stayed on-station long past their return-to-base time to destroy a rocket battery threatening U.S. Marines.

As dawn lightened the skies around them, making their aircraft visible from below, their Spectre gunship was struck by an enemy missile. Spirit 03 went down with all 14 souls on board. Two of their number -- Capt. Thomas C. "Cliff" Bland Jr., and Capt. Dixon L. Walters Jr. -- are honored at Arlington National Cemetery, and we gathered at their grave sites to remember them and the entire crew of Spirit 03.

After the remembrance ceremony, as I reflected on the life, sacrifice and death of these brave men, the words of our Airman's Creed echoed strongly in my mind. In a time of war, these men answered our nation's call to duty.

Seeking no personal gain, they were faithful to a proud heritage of honor and valor that included the Air Force's first enlisted Medal of Honor recipient from their gunship lineage. So, on that fateful morning, the crewmen of Spirit 03 were both sword and shield for the Marines near Khafji -- and they defended their fellow warriors with their lives. When duty called, when other lives were on the line, these Airmen did not falter -- they did not fail.

The next time you're at an Airman Leadership School graduation, or a dining out or some other event where you're reciting the Airman's Creed, think about what it means to you. Remember those who have lived its tenets; remember those who gave everything to uphold its promise.

You are an American Airman...do not falter, and you will not fail.

In memory of the crewmembers of Spirit 03, killed in action Jan. 31, 1991: 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, and Sgt. Barry Clark.