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Hill Airmen return from first F-35A combat deployment

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  • By Micah Garbarino

HILL AIR FORCE BASE, Utah – Last week, Airmen from the active duty 388th and Reserve 419th Fighter Wings returned home following a six-month deployment to Al Dhafra Air Base, United Arab Emirates.

The 4th Fighter Squadron’s deployment, which started in April, was the first F-35A Lightning II 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.   

 “We showed that we deserved a seat at the table just like any other fighter,” said Lt. Col. Joshua Arki, 4th Fighter Squadron commander. “We demonstrated to our friends and enemies that the F-35A is ready for any of the missions we may be called upon. We can hold any conflict in any theater at bay.”

The F-35A, the conventional takeoff and landing variant of the Joint Strike Fighter, provides greater operational flexibility by combining advanced stealth capabilities with the latest weapons technology.

The group of Airmen was made up of pilots from the active duty 4th FS and Reserve 466th FS, as well as active duty and Reserve Airmen in the 4th and 466th Aircraft Maintenance Units, and personnel in other support functions.

“Our pilots, maintainers and support personnel showed motivation and grit. Everyone banded together to carry each other through the highs and the lows of the deployment and in the end, we were incredibly successful,” Arki said. “We had a family and team cohesion that I haven’t seen before and I couldn’t be more proud of them.”

The 388th and 419th are the Air Force's first combat-capable F-35 units. The first operational F-35As arrived at Hill in October 2015. The wings fly and maintain the jet in a Total Force partnership, which capitalizes on the strength of both the active duty and Reserve components.

“Our reservists train every day with our active duty counterparts here and this deployment served as an excellent opportunity to extend our capability downrange together,” said Lt. Col. Glendon Bute, 419th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron commander. “There is a lot of pride to being the first operational Air Force F-35 units in this fight and in working to have set the tone for joint strike fighter units to come.