USAF pilot who died while providing CAS to downed Helo pilots in Iraq found ten years later

Maj. Troy Gilbert, an F-16 Fighting Falcon pilot, was killed Nov. 27, 2006, in an F-16 crash 30 miles southwest of Balad Air Base, Iraq. (Photo Credit: USAF)

The complete remains of an American F-16 pilot who was Killed in Action during the Iraq War have finally been laid to rest, nearly a decade after his death.

F-16C pilot and father of five Major Troy Gilbert was killed while conducting a Close Air Support mission northwest of Baghdad in 2006.

Gilbert’s fateful day came when a 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment MH-6 Little Bird went down in the area. In the aftermath of the crash, coalition forces tried desperately to reach their downed aircrew as insurgents (who had previously been in pickup trucks) fortified a building and opened fire on the ground troops.

While Gilbert was refueling over the area, his wingman -Captain Michael Dietrich- dropped a 500-pound bomb on the building. When the time came for it to be Gilbert’s turn to engage the enemy, the insurgents began fleeing in their trucks, one of which was armed with a mounted gun in the truck’s bed.

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Gilbert and Dietrich tracked the trucks, making several low passes to ensure that they would not hit civilian vehicles by mistake. As Dietrich left to refuel, Gilbert made the call to do a strafing run on the vehicles to mitigate collateral damage on civilians.

As Gilbert made his first low gun run pass, he laid 20mm fire into the lead pickup, pulling up as his altitude alarm sounded. Unfortunately, his second dive was about 600 feet lower than his first and he was unsuccessful in his attempts to pull up and away from certain demise.

At the time, Gilbert was believed to have been killed instantly, the majority of his body later seen entangled in his parachute lines on leaked video footage taken by the insurgents.

Gilbert’s actions were not forgotten. Weeks after saving 22 men on the ground with his gun run, an Army commander wrote a handwritten letter to Troy’s former squadron.

‘Simply put, Troy saved us from certain heavy casualties on 27 November,” the letter said. “We are forever indebted to [Gilbert] because of the valorous actions he took. None of us will forget his sacrifice, and we will always be humbled with the knowledge that he gave his life in our defense.”

The United States Air Force had unsuccessfully searched for his body in the aftermath of the crash, and told his family in 2012 they had given up the search due to the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq.

Objecting to the USAF’s failure to find their airman, Gilbert’s family -led by his widowed wife, Ginger Gilbert Ravella- successfully pressured then-Secretary of the Air Force Michael Donley to continue searching for Major Gilbert. In 2013, the family was informed of partial remains being found- those remains were interred at Arlington National Cemetery.

In late August of 2016, Gilbert was again brought front and center to the attention of the US Air Force when an Iraqi tribal leader told US advisers in the area that his tribe had Gilbert’s remains and flight gear, presenting the evidence to the Americans. After DNA testing, the USAF confirmed the remains to be those of Gilbert. In the aftermath of the discovery, the Iraqi tribal leader turned the remains over to US forces.

Gilbert’s remains arrived at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware on October 4th. Ravella and their five children were present for the transfer.

“Attending the dignified transfer at Dover Monday night was the closest we have been to Troy in 10 years,” Ravella said. “As our military promised, no one was left behind on the field of battle. Troy is home.”

Gen. Robin Rand, head of Air Force Global Strike Command and Gilbert’s friend/former commander in Iraq, said that Gilbert’s courage was second to none.

“Troy fought like a tiger in battle that day,” Rand said. “No doubt, his actions on Nov. 27, 2006, illustrate greatness, but those actions that day aren’t what made him great. What made him great was his commitment to adhere in every facet of his life to our three treasured core values of integrity first, service before self, and excellence in all we do.”

According to Go San Angelo, Gilbert attended high school and university in San Angelo, Texas. At the time of his death, he was assigned to the 332nd Air Expeditionary Wing.

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Author

  • Andy Wolf

    Andy Wolf is an Appalachian native who spent much of his youth and young adulthood overseas in search of combat, riches, and adventure- accruing decades of experience in military, corporate, first responder, journalistic and advisory roles. He resides in North Carolina's Blue Ridge Mountains with his K9 companion, Kiki.

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