United States Navy Lieutenant Commander Michael “MOB” Tremel, an F/A-18E Super Hornet pilot with the “Golden Warriors” of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 87, was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross on Saturday for shooting down a Syrian jet last year.
The shootdown occurred over Raqqa on June 18, 2017 and was the first air-to-air kill for a U.S. pilot since 1999 and the first for the United States Navy since 1991. The Distinguished Flying Cross is given for heroism or extraordinary achievement during aerial flights and was awarded to Lieutenant Commander Tremel at the Tailhook Association’s annual conference.
“By his superb leadership, skilled airmanship, and loyal devotion to duty in the face of hazardous flying conditions, Lieutenant Commander Tremel reflected great credit upon himself and upheld the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service,” his award citation states.
On June 18 in the eastern Mediterranean, Lieutenant Commander Tremel was about four months into his deployment on USS George H.W. Bush (CVN 77) when he took off on a close-air support mission with three other aircraft.
Unlike missions over Iraq and Afghanistan, where the United States enjoyed complete air superiority, the airspace over Syria was crowded with aircraft from many different countries, including Russia, Turkey, and Syria.
Tremel and his wingman, Lieutenant Commander Jeff “Jo Jo” Krueger, were tracking Russian aircraft in the area when they spotted a Syrian Air Force attack jet. An Air Force Boeing E-3 Sentry Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) aircraft identified the aircraft as a Soviet-era Su-22 belonging to the Syrian regime.
The Syrian pilot ignored repeated warnings that he was getting too close to friendly forces on the ground. He then went into a dive and began dropping ordnance.
Tremel fired off an AIM-9X Sidewinder missile from a position behind the Syrian jet. The Syrian pilot used defensive flares causing Tremel’s missile to miss. He then fired a radar-guided AIM-120 Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missile, or AMRAAM, which struck the back of the Syrian jet and caused it to pitch up and down.
As the Syrian plane began to come apart, Tremel made a pass and observed the pilot ejecting. The whole incident lasted only about eight minutes. Tremel and Krueger flew back to the carrier as the other pilots continued with the original close-air support mission.
“While monitoring a Russian SU-35 Flanker operating above him, Lieutenant Commander Tremel identified a Syrian SU-22 FITTER closing quickly on the coalition ground force. He executed three warning passes with flares, but the FITTER disregarded the warnings and delivered ordnance on the coalition ground force,” the award citation states. “Lieutenant Commander Tremel immediately fired two air-to-air missiles that destroyed the FITTER and protected the coalition force from further threat.”
The last air-to-air kill by a U.S. pilot occurred in 1999, over Serbia during the NATO intervention in the former Yugoslavia. There were four air-to-air kills during Operation Allied Force, the last one by United States Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Michael H. Geczy of a Soviet-era Mig-29.
The last air-to-air kill for a United States Navy pilot before Tremel’s came on February 7, 1991, during Operation Desert Storm when a U.S. Navy F-14 Tomcat shot down an Iraqi Air Force Mi-8 helicopter with an AIM-9 Sidewinder missile.