HILL AIR FORCE BASE — There's a new top dog at the helm of Hill Air Force Base's active-duty fighter wing.
On Monday, Col. Steven Behmer took over command of the Air Force’s only combat-ready F-35A Lightning II unit, the 388th Fighter Wing.
Behmer replaces outgoing wing commander Col. Lee Kloos, the 388th’s leader since June 2017. Kloos is retiring after 24 years in the Air Force.
According to a fighter wing press release, Behmer joined the Air Force 21 years ago. He is a command pilot with more than 2,600 hours in the A-10 and F-35A, including flying 110 combat sorties.
Behmer graduated from the Air Command and Staff College and has spent time as a National Security Affairs fellow and executive officer to the commander of Air Combat Command.
Most recently he served as the commandant of the U.S. Air Force Weapons School at Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada, where he oversaw 21 squadrons with more than 250 assigned instructors and 700 personnel. The school provides “graduate-level advanced flying" for hand-picked officers across a variety of career fields, according to the news release.
In his new role at Hill, Behmer will oversee the fighter wing’s mission to maintain combat readiness, in part by deploying and sustaining the F-35A worldwide. The wing currently has about 1,800 members, a group made of active-duty military, civilians and contractors.
Behmer will also oversee the Utah Test and Training Range a 3.2 million acre range in Utah’s west desert that provides testing and evaluation of weapons systems used across the department of defense.
Marshaling the wing's F-35 combat deployment schedule will be a major function of the colonel's job.
The first operational F-35As arrived at Hill in late 2015 and by the end of this year, Hill will own and operate 78 F-35s. The jets and associated crews from Hill have keep a steady deployment pace over the past few years.
Most recently, one squadron of F-35As, airmen and other equipment from the 388th and its reserve counterpart 419th Fighter Wings deployed to Aviano Air Base in Italy as part of a Theater Security Package.
The European run is the wing’s second deployment to the the region. In April 2017, the 34th Fighter Squadron deployed to Royal Air Force Lakenheath in England.
In 2017, F-35s from Hill also served at Kadena Air Base in Japan. In February of this year, a group of 12 F-35s, maintainers, intelligence officers, weapons crews and support personnel from Hill completed three-week combat exercise known as “Red Flag” — an exercise meant to replicate a battle against near-equal enemies during a large-scale conflict.
A group of Hill F-35s and airmen are currently stationed at Al Dhafra Air Base in the United Arab Emirates, to support the United States Air Force Central Command mission in the Middle East.
“We will continue to make sure this wing is singularly focused on deploying combat power,” Behmer said Monday. “It’s not just about the aircraft. The F-35A doesn’t go into combat without the work of everyone in this entire wing getting it there.