HILL AIR FORCE BASE, Utah -- Airmen from the active-duty 388th Fighter Wing and Reserve 419th Fighter Wing here deployed to 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 April 15.
“For those of us who have been a part of the F-35 program for a while, this is a huge milestone,” Col. Lee Kloos, commander of the 388th Fighter Wing, told a group of Airmen gathered in Hill’s deployment control center. “You’re the first. We’re proud of you and we’ll be watching you as you bring this jet’s capabilities to bear in support of our nation’s defense.”
As the first deployment to the U.S. Air Forces Central Command area of responsibility, the Airmen are prepared and trained for the AFCENT mission.
“As the first operational F-35 wing in the Air Force we’ve been working toward this since we received our first jets in 2015,” said Lt. Col. Yosef Morris, 4th Fighter Squadron commander. “We have been successful in two Red Flags, we’ve deployed to Europe and to Asia. Our Airmen are ready for this mission.”
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.
“We are adding a cutting edge weapons system to our arsenal that significantly enhances the capability of the coalition,” said Lt. Gen. Joseph T. Guastella, commander of U.S. Air Forces Central Command. “The sensor fusion and survivability this aircraft provides to the joint force will enhance security and stability across the theater and deter aggressors.”
The group of Airmen is made up of pilots from the active-duty 4th Fighter Squadron and Reserve 466th Fighter Squadron, as well as active duty and Reserve Airmen in the 4th Aircraft Maintenance Unit, and personnel in other support functions.
For many Airmen, carrying out the mission is second nature.
"It’s exciting to be on this historic first F-35A deployment to the Middle East,” said Senior Airman Caleb Shumway, a weapons load crew member in the 419th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron. “For us here at Hill, we practice loading munitions for these kinds of missions on a regular basis. The only difference for us this time around is that we’re taking these skills overseas.”
Hill's Total Force Airmen have previously deployed to Royal Air Force Lakenheath in April 2017, as well as Kadena Air Base, Japan, in the fall 2017.
“As a Total Force effort with a mix of active duty and Reserve Airmen working side by side, this is no different than what we do on a day-to-day basis here at Hill AFB,” said Col. Gina Sabric, 419th FW commander. “We train together and fight together, and as the first deployment for the F-35A to the Middle East, I’m one hundred percent confident we’ll deliver.”
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. This article was compiled from 388th Fighter Wing, 419th Fighter Wing and United States Air Force Central Command press releases.