HILL AIR FORCE BASE, Utah, May 7, 2020 (Gephardt Daily) — The first wave of airmen from the active duty 388th and Reserve 419th Fighter Wings returned home Thursday following a six-month deployment to the Middle East.
The 34th Fighter Squadron’s deployment, which started in November 2019, was the first F-35 Immediate Response Force deployment as well as the second F-35A Lightning II combat deployment, said a news release from Hill Air Force Base. The airmen supported the United States Air Force Central Command Mission in the region.
“During the deployment, the airmen performed close air support, offensive and defensive counter-air, and maritime escort which enabled regional deterrence,” said 34th Fighter Squadron commander Lt. Col. Aaron Cavazos. They also operated simultaneously from two different bases for more than three months and participated in multi-national exercises, strengthening partnerships with regional allies.
“We’re extremely proud of the mission these airmen carried out during their deployment,” said Col. Steven Behmer, 388th Fighter Wing commander. “It’s what we train for here every day. We have a lot of happy families here today. It’s great to have them home and we look forward to the rest of our Airmen returning.”
Another group of airmen from the 34th Fighter Squadron will remain in the region supporting operations there.
The group of airmen was 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 and 466th Aircraft Maintenance Units, and personnel in other support functions.
The returning airmen will be quarantined for 14 days as a precaution against the spread of the coronavirus. Most will quarantine at home with their families, but there is also temporary lodging on base for those who have family members at higher risk.
“It’s always great to see our people come home from deployment after a job well done,” said Col. Brian Silkey, acting commander of the 419th Fighter Wing. “I want to extend my sincere gratitude to all the family members who held things together here at home during this difficult time for our nation. I also want to thank the civilian employers of our reservists who’ve also made many sacrifices so their employees can serve our country. We simply can’t do what we do without the unwavering support of our families and the community.”
The F-35A, the conventional takeoff and landing variant of the Joint Strike Fighter, provides operational flexibility by combining advanced stealth capabilities with the latest weapons technology.
The 388th and 419th are the Air Force’s 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.