A Navy pilot who took out a Syrian attack jet that was dropping bombs on friendly forces last year -- the service's first air-to-air kill since the end of the Cold War -- was recognized for his heroism this weekend.
Lt. Cmdr. Mike "MOB" Tremel, an F/A-18E Super Hornet pilot with the Strike Fighter Squadron 87, was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross on Saturday during the Tailhook Association's annual conference. The medal is awarded for heroism or extraordinary achievement during aerial flights.
Tremel is credited with "extraordinary achievement" during a mission in which he shot down a Syrian Su-22 Fitter attack jet over Raqqa on June, 18, 2017.
"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.
He and his wingman, Lt. Cmdr. Jeff "Jo Jo" Krueger, initially set out from the aircraft carrier George H.W. Bush with two other pilots on what they thought was a close-air-support mission.
But the airspace was crowded, and when Tremel split off from the rest to track a Russian aircraft in the area, he spotted a Syrian jet.
"Our whole mission out there was to defeat [the Islamic State group], annihilate ISIS," he said at last year's Tailhook symposium. "... 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."
Instead, the Syrian air force attack jet ignored repeated warnings from the Navy pilots about getting too close to friendly forces on the ground. When the Fitter took a dive and began dropping ordnance, Tremel fired off an AIM-9X Sidewinder missile.
"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 aircraft will pitch right and down and pilot will jump out and left in his ejection seat," Tremel said.
Careful to avoid falling debris, Tremel watched the pilot pass in his ejection seat.
The whole thing was over in about eight minutes, according to a Navy news release. Tremel and Krueger flew back to the carrier as the other pilots continued on with the original close-air support mission.
It had marked the Navy's first air-to-air kill since the fall of the Soviet Union.
"I couldn't have done it without the guy sitting next to me, 'Jo Jo,' and the other guys that were airborne," Tremel said. "It was an absolute team effort, to include all the coordination that went on with the Air Force."
--Military.com's Hope Hodge Seck contributed to this report.