Hill Middle East deployment

Airmen from the 388th and 419th fighter wings file onto a 747 at Hill Air Force Base, headed to the Middle East to support the F-35As first deployment there. The Airmen arrived at Al Dhafra Air Base in the United Arab Emirates this week to support the Air Force Central Command mission. (United States Air Force photo by R. Nial Bradshaw)

HILL AIR FORCE BASE — F-35s from Hill Air Force Base have deployed to the Middle East for the first time.

Earlier this week, airmen from the 388th and 419th fighter wings set off for Al Dhafra Air Base, United Arab Emirates, to support the United States Air Force Central Command mission in the Middle East. 

Hill spokesman Micah Garbarino said the group includes pilots from the active duty 4th Fighter Squadron and Reserve 466th Fighter Squadron, as well as active duty and reserve airmen in the 4th Aircraft Maintenance Unit, as well as personnel in other support functions.

Citing operational security, Garbarino said the Air Force wouldn't be releasing details about how the aircraft will be employed, how long the deployment will last or how many jets and personnel are involved.

"They are there supporting the mission of United States Air Force Central Command," Garbarino said in an email. "Our airmen and the stealth, lethality and interoperability of the F-35A provide commanders a wide-range of options."

According to their website, the central command's mission is to "deliver decisive air and space power ... for the security and stability of the region." The command works with international partners and other branches of the U.S. military.

Garbarino said F-35As from Hill have previously deployed to Royal Air Force Lakenheath in April 2017, as well as Kadena Air Base, Japan in the fall of 2017. In February, a group of 12 F-35s and 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.

The 388th and 419th are the Air Force's first combat-capable F-35A units. 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.

You can reach reporter Mitch Shaw at mishaw@standard.net. Follow him on Twitter at @mitchshaw23.

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