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US Navy fighter pilot who shot down Syrian jet in 2017 receives Distinguished Flying Cross

Distinguished Flying Cross (Senior Airman Ryan Callaghan/U.S. Air Force)
September 12, 2018

A U.S. Navy pilot was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross last week at the Tailhook Association’s annual convention. The medal is given for heroism or extraordinary achievement during aerial flights.

Lt. Cmdr. Mike “MOB” Tremel, pilot of a U.S. F/A-18E Super Hornet, shot down a Syrian government warplane after it attacked Washington-backed fighters near the ISIS capital of Raqqa in June 2017, Fox News reported.

The Syrian Su-22 dropped bombs near locations occupied by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).

Tremel took down the Syrian Su-22, which was the first air-to-air kill for the U.S. military in 18 years. The act was a show of force against Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad’s forces on the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in the town of Ja’Din, south of Tabqah.

Tremel, who is a graduate of the Navy’s premier fighter weapons school and a 2004 graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy said: “It was an absolute team effort. Our whole mission out there was to defeat (the Islamic State group), annihilate ISIS. At any point in time, if this had deescalated, that would have been great. We would have gotten mission success and (gone) back to continue to drop bombs on ISIS.”

Tremel said he had a hunch that on June 18, 2017, the day would be a bit different, the Navy Times reported.

At last week’s convention, Tremel said: “Defending guys on the ground is what I’ve done my whole career.”

Tremel and his wingman, Lt. Cmdr. Carl “JoJo” Krueger, began their day with a launch off the carrier USS George H.W. Bush in the eastern Mediterranean Sea. They flew south of Cyprus and then over Turkey toward Syria.

On June 18, the rules of engagement briefed to the “Golden Warriors” of Strike Fighter Squadron 87 urged attentiveness and caution.

They were told that Russian pilots were responding by flying “very professionally, so Tremel said they did the same. A Russian Su-35 Flanker fighter was spotted above them.

Tremel’s radar soon picked up a Syrian Su-22 Fitter aircraft that was fast approaching the U.S.-allied Kurdish and Arab militias identified as the SDF. Tremel said he tried to get the pilot to move away from the area that he was protecting, but requests were ignored.

In return, Tremel executed a “head butt” by flying overhead the Syrian jet and firing flares.

“At any point in time, if this aircraft would head south and work its way out of the situation, it’d be fine with us. We could go back to executing (close-air support),” he said.

The Syrian pilot again ignored the request. Tremel said: “We ended up rolling in, dropping ordnance, two bombs on those defended forces.”

Tremel said he went for the Sidewinder missile. “It was really crazy, swinging that master arm for the first time in combat with an air-to-air missile selected,” he recalled.

But the missile didn’t work.

“Real time, I thought I might have been too close. I thought maybe I hit (the jet) but it didn’t fuse in time,” Tremel said. He then chose the AIM-120, an advanced medium-range missile.

“That got the job done from about half a mile. It sliced into the Fitter’s rump and pitched the jet right, then down,” he said. Tremel veered left and saw the Syrian pilot eject from his plane.

The whole encounter took just 8 minutes.

Krueger said: “Looking at the wreckage down below us, it was a different feeling. We had to make some decisions pretty quickly, and I thought the training and commanders’ guidance that we got at that point was a big deal.”

The award was presented by the head of naval aviation, Vice Admiral DeWolfe Miller III, at the Tailhook Association’s annual convention at the Nugget Casino Resort in Nevada last weekend.