SOCOM sees a 'Ghost'
By Lt. Col. James R. Wilson, 919th Special Operations Wing
/ Published May 25, 2016
MacDill AFB, Fla. -- General Raymond Thomas III, commander, U.S. Special Operations Command and Maj. Gen. Richard Haddad, vice commander of the Air Force Reserve Command, unveiled the latest painting by award- winning artist Maj. Warren Neary in a ceremony May 23 symbolizing more than four decades of teamwork and dedication.
Maj. Gen. Richard “Beef” Haddad described “The Ghost Over The Highway” painting as an “exquisite piece of artwork that symbolizes the partnership between the Air Force Reserve and the special operations community.”
“For the crew, this represents the opportunity to go into combat and come out safely while destroying so many targets on the Highway of Death,” said Haddad. “More importantly, it signifies the bond the Air Force Reserve has had with special operations for 45 years now.”
The relationship began with the 919th Tactical Airlift Group in 1971 at Duke Field, Florida and “evolved into the AC-130 gunships followed by the MC-130s and now the C-145s and C-146s as well as our [Remotely Piloted Aircraft] and Formal Training Unit that do so much work for Air Force Special Operations Command,” said Haddad.
The painting marks the 25th anniversary of Operation Desert Storm and was unveiled with Gen. Raymond Thomas, SOCOM commander, during the Retired Special Operations Senior Leader Conference here.
“We’ve been involved in numerous operations since Just Cause as well as countless exercises along the way,” said Haddad. “But as we all know, history tends to repeat itself. We look forward to continuing that bond between the Air Force Reserve and the special operations community.”
The historical piece highlights an AC-130 combat mission flown on Feb. 26, 1991 during Operation Desert Storm in which Haddad and his crew used perseverance and teamwork to overcome numerous obstacles in successfully employing their weapons over a road connecting Kuwait City to Baghdad.
The lead aircraft on the mission did not have enough fuel to successfully execute the mission forcing Haddad to accelerate and adjust their mission in flight. While doing so, his crew had to manually control their aircraft’s ailerons due to a faulty autopilot while employing defensive countermeasure to avoid Iraqi anti-aircraft artillery as they were leaving the “killbox.”
Also in attendance for the unveiling was Col. Randal Bright, co-pilot for the mission and now the commander of the 927th Air Refueling Wing, Col. (ret.) Jose Davison who served as the navigator and Master Sgt. (ret.) Larry Ridge, flight engineer on the legendary mission. All were members of the Reserve’s 711th Special Operations Squadron, a subordinate unit of the 919th Special Operations Wing, Duke Field, Florida, during Desert Storm.
“This painting represents the core members of a gunship crew--the gunners,” said Davison. “Without them, the rest of the crew would not have been capable of completing our assigned mission. The painting brought back great memories of the pride that we felt after arriving at our home base.
"We felt very proud that after so many years of training we were able to make a small contribution in the successful resolution of the Gulf War," said Davison. "We were proud reservists who [helped create a culture where everyone knows the Reserve is] capable of doing the mission. We were pioneers of the Total Force concept…we brought a tremendous amount of pride to the Air Force Reserve.”
That pride and experience was echoed by other crew members on the “Highway of Death” mission.
“The Reserve was part of the Total Force--we were there to do that mission,” said Ridge. “We have a lot of experience, and we bring that to the table. That experience was quite helpful – it gave me a high level of confidence we were going to be successful that night. General Haddad and Colonel Bright were very experienced—I would have flown anywhere with them.”
Ridge retired in 2006 with 36 years of service and 8,000 flying hours in AC-130A Spectre and MC-130E Combat Talon aircraft.
While the exact number of casualties remains unknown, the attack destroyed an estimated 1,200 to 1,400 vehicles.
The crew also destroyed at least 20 enemy trucks and four armored personnel carriers and were all awarded the Air Medal for their actions that night.
Neary, a Citizen Airman assigned to the Air Force Reserve Command’s history office, has been recognized for contributing several paintings to the Air Force Art Program.
The original of “Ghost Over The Highway” will be displayed in the Pentagon while SOCOM, AFSOC, AFRC and the 919th Special Operations Wing will receive canvas clones of the artwork.