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Lt. Gen. Brad Webb, commander of Air Force Special Operations Command, and Air Commandos with the 4th Special Operations Squadron, prepare to enter a Distinguished Flying Cross ceremony at Hurlburt Field, Fla., May 11, 2018. USAF photo by A1C Rachel Yates.

Twenty-four airmen from the 4th Special Operations Squadron at Hurlburt Field, Fla., were awarded Distinguished Flying Crosses for four separate engagements, all of which included an AC-130 protecting friendly forces in Afghanistan. 

"All of the DFCs presented today were earned in the dangerous skies of Afghanistan," Air Force Special Operations Command boss Lt. Gen. Brad Webb said in a release. "Although dates and objectives differ, the general mission remained the same, … defend Americans and their partner forces, and decimate the enemy." 

Twenty-one airmen received the awards during the Hurlburt ceremony, and three were unable to attend. 

The first of the engagements took place on July 25, 2016, when an AC-130U was providing high-risk daylight protection for 114 US and Afghan special operations forces in the Nangarhar Province. After more than 50 insurgents ambushed the team, the gunship used danger-close 105mm howitzer rounds within 120 meters of friendly forces.

The AC-130U ran low of fuel, so the crew coordinated another gunship to arrive. The enemy's attack intensified as the second AC-130 arrived on station, so the two worked in tandem and began engaging with a total of four guns at the same time. The attack continued, and a third AC-130 launched. In total, the crew of the first AC-130 flew 12.3 hours in support of ground forces. Thirty-one enemy were killed, 28 structures were destroyed, and no friendly forces were killed, according to the release.

On March 29, 2017, another aircrew was flying support for 35 US and Afghan special operations forces when they came under attack in the Kot Valley of Nangarhar Province. Sixty-five insurgents attacked with "overwhelming hostile fire." The AC-130 dropped to a lower altitude and fired for about 90 minutes. Twenty-one of the 25 fire missions were danger-close, and the AC-130 pilots received MANPADS launch indications during the fight, according to the release. The airpower helped repel the ambush with no friendly casualties.

On April 8, 2017, another crew was flying support for 281 US and Afghan special operations forces again near Nangarhar. When the AC-130 arrived on scene, coalition forces were already taking fire. The aircrew needed to provide continuous fire during the ongoing attack, while being judicious about their ammunition usage. As the fight continued, the aircraft commander called to command and control to prepare another AC-130 with a bigger armament load and more fuel. The crew returned to base, immediately transferred to the other AC-130, and returned to the fight. Throughout this fight, the crew emptied two AC-130s, killing 32 enemy forces, and destroying a weapons cache.

On May 24, 2017, the last crew was flying support for 378 US and Afghan special operations forces in Nangarhar when they were attacked. The crew ​accurately fired on the enemy forces "within seconds" of verifying positions, despite dealing with electrical issues and gun malfunctions, eliminating the threats.​

​The names of 23 of the 24 airmen who received the awards is available here, one airman's name was withheld for operational security reasons, according to Air Force Special Operations Command.