HILL AIR FORCE BASE — The F-35’s ballyhooed arrival at Hill Air Force Base has been followed by much talk about a new era — for the Air Force, for Hill and the Top of Utah.
But in late October, the other side of that “new era” coin was on display as the 421st Expeditionary Fighter Squadron’s deployment to Afghanistan marked the beginning of the end for F-16s at Hill.
The 421st — a sub-unit of the 388th Fighter Wing known in Air Force circles as the “Black Widows” — landed at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan on Oct. 28 to support Operation Freedom’s Sentinel and NATO’s Resolute Support mission. The missions run parallel to each other as the follow-up to the U.S.’s post 9/11 combat work in Afghanistan, which was known as Operation Enduring Freedom.
According to the Department of Defense, U.S. forces there are working security and counter-terrorism missions to build on the past 13 years of U.S. involvement in the country.
The Black Widows will serve in Afghanistan for the next six months, providing overwatch and close air support for ground units throughout Afghanistan.
“We are incredibly excited to be here,” said Lt. Col. Michael Meyer, 421st Expeditionary Fighter Squadron commander, in a news release. “This is what we train for. We are here to support the ground commander’s intent, wherever and whenever they ask, save lives on the ground and help transition Afghanistan to a stable and self-sufficient government.”
The 419th Fighter Wing at Hill is a part of the deployment as well and will eventually send around 200 Airmen to Bagram.
Nathan Simmons, 388th spokesman, said that while in Bagram, the 421st will fall under the command of the 455th Air Expeditionary Wing. The 421st last deployed to Bagram from July 2009 through January 2010, where it flew over 1,800 sorties in support of OEF.
According Meyer, the Black Widows’ mission is the 15th and final F-16 deployment to the Middle East area since 1990. The squadron, along with the two other fighter squadrons at Hill, will eventually transition to the F-35A Lightning II.
Hill has a strong history with the F-16, and Airmen there have been flying the jets for more than 35 years.
The 388th accepted the first operational combat F-16A Fighting Falcon in January 1979, making it the first fully operational F-16 fighter wing in the Air Force. In 1983, the 419th became the first reserve unit to fly the F-16. In 2001, the wing was the the first F-16 unit to conduct air strikes in Afghanistan after the 9/11 attacks and in 2003, the first to fly combat missions into Iraq.