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Final Airmen, aircraft from Hill fighter wings return home

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  • By Micah Garbarino

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

The largest group of approximately 200 Airmen returned to Hill AFB on late-night flight Sunday evening, while most of the aircraft arrived on base Thursday and Friday.

The 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. 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 3 months and participated in multi-national exercises, strengthening partnerships with regional allies.  

The deployed squadron 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.

Another group of active duty and Reserve Airmen departed for Al Dhafra Air Base two weeks ago on what will be the wings' third combat deployment in approximately 12 months.  

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.

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 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.

EDITORS NOTE: This is an updated version of a story originally published May 7, 2020