HILL AIR FORCE BASE, Utah — For the second time this year, Airmen from the 388th and 419th Fighter Wings here deployed F-35A Lighting IIs into combat.
The 34th Fighter Squadron departed Hill last week for Al Dhafra Air Base, United Arab Emirates, to support the United States Air Force Central Command mission in the Middle East. The aircraft arrived in country this month.
“I’m extremely proud of all of our Airmen in the 388th and 419th fighter wings,” said Col. Steven Behmer, 388th Fighter Wing commander. “Both they and this platform are absolutely ready for this short-notice tasking, bringing the unique combat capabilities of the F-35A to the fight.”
The group of Airmen is made up of pilots from the active duty 34th Fighter Squadron and Reserve 466th Fighter Squadron, as well as active duty and Reserve Airmen in the 34th Aircraft Maintenance Unit, and personnel in other support functions.
“Our maintainers and operators have had a lot of opportunities over the past year to operate together in off-station environments. From simultaneous operating locations across the globe to the 24-aircraft, 3-month deployment to Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho. We are ready.” said Lt. Col. Aaron Cavazos, 34th Fighter Squadron commander. “We’ve become close as a team and are willing and able to fill this combat tasking. Our training has been purposeful and we’re going to support combatant commanders with the largest F-35A combat deployment to date.”
The F-35A, the conventional takeoff and landing variant of the Joint Strike Fighter, provides greater operational capability by combining advanced stealth capabilities with the latest weapons technology.
The 4th Fighter Squadron returned to Hill two weeks ago from a 6-month deployment to Al Dhafra. It was the Air Force’s first F-35A combat deployment. The Airmen supported the United States Air Force Central Command Mission in the region. They performed various missions, including close air support and regional deterrence against aggressors. They also participated in multi-national exercises, strengthening partnerships and improving interoperability.
The 388th and 419th are the Air Force first combat-capable F-35A units. The first operational F-35As arrived at Hill in October 2015. The active duty 388th FW and Air Force Reserve 419th FW fly and maintain the jet in a Total Force partnership, which capitalizes on the strength of both components. By the end of this year, Hill AFB will be home to 78 F-35s.