Navy pilot Lt. Cmdr. Mike Tremel was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross on Saturday for shooting down a Syrian Su-22 Fitter attack jet in June 2017, the first air-to-air kill since 1999, Military.com reports.
Tremel — who was piloting his Navy F/A-18E Super Hornet with his wingman, Lt. Cmdr. Jeff “Jo Jo” Krueger, on June 18, 2017 — was awarded the medal during the annual Tailhook Association conference on September 10, the same venue where he first disclosed details of the dogfight with the Syrian jet last year.
Tremel and Krueger, launched from the USS George Bush to provide close air support for U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces as part of the anti-ISIS campaign, were alerted by a Joint Terminal Attack Coordinator (JTAC) that forces loyal to the regime of Bashar Al-Assad were firing on partner forces near the then-de facto ISIS capital of Raqqa.
According to to the Navy, a Boeing E-3 Sentry airborne warning and control aircraft identified an inbound aircraft as a Soviet-era Su-22 belonging to the Syrian regime. Repeated radio calls to the Su-22 went unheeded; according to The War Zone, the Syrian aircraft released ordnance on SDF fighters even after Tremel “thumped” the aircraft three times with flares.
“The whole mission out there that day was to go defeat ISIS and annihilate ISIS,” Tremel said at least year's Tailhook conference. “At any point in time, if this had de-escalated, that would have been great. We would have gotten mission success and [gone] back to continue to drop bombs on ISIS."
Cleared under the rules of engagement, Tremel locked onto the Su-22 with an AIM-9X Sidewinder and fired, only for his infrared-guided missile to end up drawn away by flares. Tremmel switched to a radar-guided AIM-120 AMRAAM missile and fired, striking the Su-22 and sending the aircraft plummeting to the ground as the pilot ejected.
The engagement lasted all of eight minutes, according to the Navy. And while Tremmel may enjoy the recognition now, he told the Tailhook Symposium last year that, with combat operations against ISIS still underway, "the show must go on."
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