Soldiers assigned to the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (Airborne) played a major role in Operation Gothic Serpent, also known as the Battle of Mogadishu, and six veterans were recognized with upgraded awards Oct. 29 during a ceremony.

The award upgrades – which included the Silver Star and the Distinguished Flying Cross – were based on a review ordered in 2020 by former Secretary of the Army Ryan McCarthy and presented during Operation Gothic Serpent’s 28th anniversary at the Gen. Bryan “Doug” Brown Compound.

“These men and their Families seated before us represent the very best our nation has to offer,” said Lt. Gen. Jonathan P. Braga, commanding general, U.S. Army Special Operations Command.

“The actions of the aviation warfighters of this unit in the skies and streets of Mogadishu through their uncommon valor and sacrifice have become legends, not only in the special operations community but to the country that places every ounce of trust in these quiet professionals to protect the nation without fear.”

Silver Star recipients included Maj. Paul Shannon, Sgt. 1st Class Charles Warren, Sgt. 1st Class Mason Hall and Sgt. Kevin McKeehan, while the Distinguished Flying Cross was presented to 1st Sgt. Kenneth Hickman and Sgt. 1st Class Scott Hargis.

“The Silver Star is the nation’s third-highest award for gallantry, superseded only by the Medal of Honor and the Distinguished Service Cross,” said Brig. Gen. Philip J. Ryan, commanding general, U.S. Army Special Operations Aviation Command. “Similarly, part of the criteria meriting the Distinguished Flying Cross is an act of heroism or extraordinary achievement while operating an aerial flight involving operations that are not routine. Special Operations Aviation was, by definition, not routine.”

Whether they were providing suppressive fire, crash instructions or medical evacuations, the awardees saved many lives through their efforts on the battlefield, even as they found themselves under enemy fire.

“These men honored here today distinguished themselves operating under unimaginable stress,” Ryan said. “And [did] so with a level of precision, dedication and extraordinary heroism and gallantry for which these medals were originally conceived.”

Posthumous awards were also presented for Chief Warrant Officer 3 Donovan Briley, who piloted the lead MH-60L Black Hawk helicopter for Joint Special Operations Task Force Ranger and was killed in action on Oct. 3, 1993.

After successfully assaulting a highly contested urban objective during Operation Gothic Serpent in Mogadishu, Somalia, Briley held his aerial position and ensured the ground forces’ safety on the objective. He and his copilot were killed when their aircraft was downed by enemy fire, but he was able to save all of the passengers’ lives.

Briley had previously received posthumous awards including the Distinguished Flying Cross, Bronze Star, Purple Heart and the Air Medal with valor device for his actions. During the ceremony, his widow Sharri Briley and daughter Jordan Campbell accepted the Silver Star and another Air Medal with valor device on his behalf.

“Donovan is a hero to so many, and every Night Stalker who walks the halls of this hangar knows his face and says his name,” Braga said in a released statement provided by 160th SOAR. “There are hundreds of valorous acts that occurred that day and beyond. That type of sacrifice, love of nation and total commitment is an indelible attribute of this organization.”

Braga said he was honored to spend time with Operation Gothic Serpent veterans during the ceremony and appreciated the opportunity to present new and upgraded awards.

“These heroes are cut from a special cloth of patriots,” he said. “Each ribbon and medal we pin today means so much more. They represent life-altering moments of courage and valor for these men and their Families. They so bravely manned their miniguns against all odds, (and) flew directly into the fire for their brothers on the ground.”