Hill Airmen return from Afghanistan

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Nearly 300 active duty and Reserve Airmen assigned to the 421st Fighter Squadron, known as the Black Widows, returned here May 10 following a nearly eight-month deployment to Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan.

The 421st FS spent more than 10,000 hours in the skies, flying 2,800 sorties and dropping more than 100 guided bombs in support of coalition troops on the ground as part of Operation Freedom’s Sentinel and NATO’s Resolute Support mission, according to Lt. Col. Mike Meyer, commander of the 421st FS.

“As the only dedicated fighter unit in Afghanistan, we provided 24/7 close air support across the entire country,” Meyer said. “There are still quite a few Americans on the ground there, so we liked to think of ourselves as their guardian angels.”

This likely marks the final F-16 deployment from Hill as the base’s fighter wings transition to the F-35, the Air Force’s newest fighter aircraft. The 388th and 419th Fighter Wings were the first active-duty and Reserve units to begin flying operational F-16 missions in 1979 and 1983, respectively.

Hundreds of family members and community supporters lined up outside a maintenance hangar, clapping and cheering as they greeted the returning Airmen.

“These families are the real heroes,” Meyer said. “You can’t even say how good it makes you feel to see the support from the base and local community.”

As Tech. Sgt. Cliff Calhoun embraced his 4-year-old daughter, the 419th FW reservist and avionics mechanic said it was great to have another successful deployment behind him.

Calhoun took a military leave of absence from his civilian career for the deployment and has deployed to Afghanistan twice previously.

“There’s nothing better than coming home,” he said.