HILL AIR FORCE BASE — For the second time in 2019, an F-35 fighter squadron from Hill Air Force Base is headed for a combat deployment in the Middle East.
On Wednesday, 388th Fighter Wing spokesman Micah Garbarino said airmen from the 388th and 419th fighter wings’ 34th Fighter Squadron left last week for Al Dhafra Air Base, United Arab Emirates. For security reasons, it’s common for the Air Force to announce deployments after crews have already left.
The Hill group will support the United States Air Force Central Command mission in the Middle East.
“I’m extremely proud of all of our Airmen in the 388th and 419th fighter wings,” said Col. Steven Behmer, 388th Fighter Wing commander in a press release. “(They) ... are absolutely ready for this short-notice tasking, bringing the unique combat capabilities of the F-35A to the fight.”
Garbarino said the group is made of pilots and active duty personnel from the 34th FS and the reserve 466th FS. The crew also includes active duty and reserve airmen in the 34th Aircraft Maintenance Unit and personnel in other support functions.
Just a few weeks ago, airmen and jets from Hill’s 4th FS returned from a six-month deployment to the same region, supporting the same mission.
The squadron completed at least two combat strikes on enemy forces while overseas.
In September, F-35s and pilots from Hill were part of a group that dropped about 80,000 pounds of bombs on Qanus Island in Iraq — a spot that has been used as a hideout by the Islamic State.
In April, Hill F-35 pilots conducted an air strike at Wadi Ashai, Iraq, hitting a long-established ISIS tunnel network and weapons cache in a remote area of the Hamrin Mountains.
At the time, Air Force officials said the strike marked the jet’s first real-world combat strike.
Hill was selected as the Air Force’s preferred home for the F-35 in December 2013 after a four-year environmental review process. Since the initial delivery of two jets in late 2015, the base has been accepting one to two aircraft each month. Once the full fleet of 78 Lightning IIs is complete, expected sometime before the end of this year, the planes will be divided among three fighter squadrons.
Since their Utah arrival F-35As from Hill have also deployed to Royal Air Force Lakenheath, Kadena Air Base, Japan, Mountain Home Air Force Base in Idaho, Aviano Air Base in Italy and completed several other combat exercises and training missions.
“Our maintainers and operators have had a lot of opportunities over the past year to operate together in off-station environments,” said Lt. Col. Aaron Cavazos, 34th Fighter Squadron commander. “From simultaneous operating locations across the globe to the 24-aircraft, 3-month deployment to Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho. We are ready.”