Remains of F-16 Pilot Return Home After 10 Years


The remains of F-16 pilot Maj. Troy Gilbert, who died Nov. 27, 2006, after his F-16C crashed northwest of Baghdad, returned home this week, the Air Force announced Wednesday.

Partial remains had been recovered and buried with full honors Dec. 11, 2006, at Arlington National Cemetery.

But a year later, an al-Qaida-linked insurgent group posted a propaganda video denouncing President George W. Bush and portraying the body of a U.S. pilot killed in Iraq, alleged to be Gilbert.

Gilbert's family requested the Air Force search for additional remains, even though the Defense Department labeled him as "accounted for." The Pentagon later made Gilbert an exception to policy, allowing the search to continue.

Gilbert, assigned to the 309th Fighter Squadron at Luke Air Force Base, Arizona, rerouted outside of Taji, Iraq, after he and another pilot got word that an AH-6 Little Bird helicopter had been shot down.

Gilbert and his wingman took turns refueling their aircraft while providing low-flying passes and engaging insurgents threatening U.S. and coalition forces. Using his 20-millimeter Gatling gun, Gilbert destroyed enemy trucks and dispersed others that were almost upon the friendly forces 20 miles northwest of Baghdad, the Air Force said in a release.

During a low pass, Gilbert's jet impacted the ground. The Pentagon initially listed him as missing, but later confirmed his death. It was determined the crash killed him instantly.

U.S. forces in Iraq who investigated the crash, however, said that insurgents had reached the site before friendly forces could.

In September 2012, some of Gilbert's remains were recovered and buried during a second service at Arlington on Dec. 11, 2013.

The service said in August 2016 that an Iraqi tribal leader approached a U.S. military adviser near Al-Taqaddam, Iraq, with evidence of more of Gilbert's remains. The evidence was turned over to the Armed Forces Medical Examiner System at Dover Air Force Base, Delaware.

AFMES confirmed the evidence Sept. 7 through DNA testing, the release said. The U.S. advisers reconnected with the Iraqis, who provided the remains, including a U.S. flight suit, flight jacket and parachute harness.

The remains arrived at Dover on Monday for additional testing. The arrival was attended by his family; Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James; Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein; Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force James Cody; and Gen. Robin Rand, Air Force Global Strike Command commander, who had been a longtime friend of Gilbert.

Gilbert's wife, Ginger Gilbert Ravella, said she felt justice finally "was served" after 10 years. She and Gilbert had five children together.

"I want to thank not only the brave Special Operations Forces that ultimately found Troy's body but also each and every single airman, soldier, sailor and Marine who searched or supported the recovery mission during these last 10 years," she said.

"As an Air Force officer, husband and father, Troy Gilbert truly represented what being an airman is all about," Goldfein said.

"He was committed to serving his country, his team and his family in everything he did. On the day he died, he characteristically put service before self when he answered the short-notice call to support coalition ground forces who had come under attack. He put his own safety aside and saved many lives that day."

-- Oriana Pawlyk can be reached at Follow her on Twitter at@Oriana0214.

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