HILL AIR FORCE BASE — Generally speaking, for the past half decade at Hill Air Force Base, the F-35 has been king — and Staff Sgt. D’Angelo Robinson has been right there, in the thick of it all.
Hill was selected as the Air Force’s preferred home for the next-generation fighter in December 2013 after a four-year environmental review process. The first two operational F-35s arrived at Hill in September 2015 and the base received approximately one to two jets every month until reaching its full fleet of 78 late last year. The wing’s three squadrons — the 4th, 34th and 421st — each have 24 F-35s, with another six backup aircraft stored at the base.
Since the arrival of the first jets, Hill’s two fighter wings have flown tens of thousands of sorties, built millions of dollars of new facilities and taken the jet into real-world combat situations multiple times.
According to base spokesperson Micah Garbarino, airmen from Hill’s 388th Fighter Wing have been continuously deployed in combat with the F-35 for more than 17 months. Each of the wing’s three squadrons, Garbarino said, alongside reservists from the 419th Fighter Wing, have deployed in support of the Air Force Central Command’s mission at Al Dhafra Air Base, United Arab Emirates.
The 4th Fighter Squadron, which deployed in April 2019, was the first. The 34th FS deployed in October 2019 and returned home this past June and July, and the 421st FS is currently deployed — made up of pilots and maintainers and some personnel in other support functions.
To say that Robinson, a five-year Air Force veteran, knows the F-35 would be a rather large understatement. He’s worked in all three of Hill’s fighter squadrons, served a Middle East combat deployment and currently works in the 4th FS’s Squadron Aviation Resource Managers Office, which essentially works to make sure everything and everyone is ready for the daily flying missions conducted by the fighter wings.
“(Working at Hill during the F-35 stand-up) has been an amazing opportunity,” Robinson said. “I am very thankful to be given the chance to experience how all three fighter squadrons work. There are challenging days but getting to go through those challenges have made me the person I am today.”
Robinson said he joined the Air Force to travel and provide a good life for his daughter. He said the most important lessons he’s learned working on the team to develop the Air Force’s first combat F-35 outfit are patience, confidence and leadership.
“The (leadership) roles and responsibilities have built my character as well as developed who I’ve become as a person,” Robinson said. “There’s always another challenge to overcome.”